Chikungunya spreads on St. Thomas, St. John


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ST. THOMAS - A V.I. Alert went out Friday warning residents that the V.I. Health Department has confirmed 25 cases of chikungunya in the St. Thomas-St. John District.

St. Croix has no confirmed cases.

Since June, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been helping the V.I. Health Department beef up its surveillance, investigation and diagnostic capacity, while also providing education to health care workers about the clinical management of the mosquito-borne virus.

The CDC and local Health Department have been offering free blood testing to confirm the cases as patients come into their doctors' offices with symptoms.

The virus is very similar to dengue, and the two share many symptoms including fever, rash and joint pain. Chikungunya, like dengue fever, is a reportable disease in the territory.

In early June, the territory had only one confirmed case that was acquired on-island and two cases that were imported - where the person acquired the virus in another locale and then returned to the territory before getting sick.

Chikungunya has swept rapidly through the Caribbean since the first locally acquired case in the Americas was diagnosed in St. Martin in December.

The V.I. Health Department is urging the district's residents to take precautions against mosquito bites and to see a doctor if they experience any symptoms.

Chikungunya is a virus - transmitted to people by the bite of an infected mosquito - that can cause an illness characterized by fever and joint pain, the most common symptoms, according to the CDC.

There is no vaccine for chikungunya and no specific anti-viral treatment. Care is supportive, to ease symptoms.

The Aug. 22 update on the Caribbean regional outbreak from the Pan American Health Organization showed 214 suspected cases in the U.S. Virgin Islands with 25 confirmed cases.

The British Virgin Islands has 20 confirmed cases, according to the organization.

Overall, the Pan American Health Organization is reporting 583,504 suspected cases, 5,619 confirmed cases and 37 deaths from chikungunya in the Caribbean region.

The strain of chikungunya that has been spreading through the Caribbean is being carried by the same species of mosquito, the Aedes, that typically carries dengue fever, so the steps to avoid being bitten are the same.

Symptoms of chikungunya usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Most chikungunya patients feel better within a week or so, according to the CDC.

However, some people with chikungunya may develop prolonged joint pain that can last for months, according to the CDC. Such prolonged joint pain is not typical for dengue.

For more information, go to www.healthvi.org or www.cdc.gov/chikungunya or call the V.I. Health Department at 773-1311.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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