What Is the Chikungunya Virus?

New cases of a rare mosquito-borne illness emerge in St. Martin.

A scientist examines tiger mosquitos at a laboratory in Montpellier, southern France, on Aug. 9, 2012.
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Those planning a holiday in St. Martin may want to reconsider the trip, or at least repack their bags. The Centers for Disease Control has announced a travel advisory for the Caribbean island after two cases of a mosquito-borne illness called chikungunya were reported on the French side of the island by the World Health Organization.

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The virus, which has never been seen before in the Western Hemisphere, has now infected 10 people on the French side of the island, as of Dec. 12. It occurs more frequently in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent and travels from human to human through female mosquitos, specifically Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, reports the CDC.

The word "chikungunya" in the Makonde language, spoken in Mozambique and Tanzania, means "that which bends up" referring to the stooped bodies of infected people.

Symptoms of chikungunya include headache, fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, rash and muscle pain. A fever may last days or weeks. Some patients experience "incapacitating joint pain" for longer periods, according to the CDC. To help stave off the illness, WHO recommends covering up: wear clothing which minimizes skin exposure and wear repellent that contains DEET, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, PMD or Picaridin. The CDC recommends anyone who sleeps during the daytime to use insecticide-treated bednets.

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Since there isn't a vaccine or a cure, patients are advised to rest, drink fluids and take medicine such as Tylenol to curb fever symptoms.

While the virus isn't usually fatal, it "can contribute to the cause of death" in older individuals, says WHO. There have also been rare reports of first trimester miscarriages following a chikungunya infection, according to the CDC. Symptoms are often mild and the disease is sometimes misdiagnosed as dengue.

The CDC urges health care providers to report any potential chikungunya cases to state or local health departments for testing.


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