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St. Maarten on alert as two cases of Chikungunya confirmed in St. Martin

SATURDAY, 7 DECEMBER 2013

MARIGOT–Two cases of Chikungunya, a Dengue-like sickness, have been confirmed in St. Martin following testing at the specialist laboratory in Marseille that returned positive results to Agence Régional de Santé (ARS) on December 5.

The disclosure was made by ARS Director-General Patrice Richard on Friday at a press conference in the Préfecture attended by Préfet Philippe Chopin, President of the Collectivité Aline Hanson, Dutch-side Minister of Public Health Cornelius de Weever and specialist epidemiologists.

Richard said family doctors, for about two weeks, have been reporting cases of people showing suspected signs of Chikungunya, and not Dengue. There is no current evidence that Chikungunya is on the Dutch side. The virus can be imported by travelling from a risk country.

The two confirmed cases originated in French Quarter. In addition, there are currently four “probable” cases and 30 “suspected” cases, 15 of which are in the Oyster Pond area. In technical terms, “suspected” means just the signs are manifested while “probable” is a diagnostic test that calculates the likelihood that Chikungunya has been contracted, according to epidemiologists.

ARS is awaiting more results of other cases from the Marseille laboratory.

“Chikungunya is in the Pacific islands, in Asia, in India, but never until now in the Caribbean islands,” noted epidemiologist Marion Petit-Sinturel. “It’s the first time we have had a located transmission here in St. Martin.”

ARS Director Pascal Godefroy said the situation is likely to change quickly as results come in.

“This could be the beginning of an epidemic since we are already in a dengue epidemic,” he said.

Minister de Weever acknowledged that “mosquitoes don’t stop at the border,” and assured the full cooperation of Dutch-side health authorities.

“We will be synchronising efforts on all fronts with our French-side colleagues, and following similar protocols, treatment plans, action plans, prevention control and communication,” De Weever said. “I believe that only together can we fight this war and what may come in the future, but the ground work has been done today and we look forward to working together.”

President Hanson called for the population to be extra vigilant in eradicating breeding grounds, and reminded that the cemetery in Marigot is an area where water collects in some areas.

Préfet Chopin indicated there was no cause for alarm as the method for controlling the spread of Chikungunya is the same for dengue. The emergence of the virus has prompted an immediate and comprehensive plan of action by French-side authorities to limit the impact of the disease and fight against the mosquito vector.

The plan includes strengthening epidemiological surveillance by the systematic identification of cases and their location, control of larvae and intensification of mosquito fogging, strengthening health checks at the border by the handling of aircrafts and providing information to travellers, the establishment of a public communication campaign to recall prevention and protection measures.

Chikungunya is a disease transmitted by the same mosquito that causes dengue, Aedes aegypti. Symptoms are similar to dengue – a sudden fever greater than or equal to 38.5 degrees Celsius (101.3 degrees Fahrenheit), joint pain in wrists, ankles or knuckles, muscle pain, extreme tiredness, headache, rash, itching, particularly at the arc of the foot, and sometimes, minor bleeding in the gums, especially in children.

The disease appears between four to seven days after the bite of the infected mosquito. The majority of clinical signs last five to 10 days, but joint pain may persist for longer. Severe cases requiring hospitalisation are rare.

Instructions for prevention and protection are identical to those implemented against dengue, namely, destroying potential mosquito breeding grounds indoors and outdoors, throwing out stagnant water from flower vases, old tyres, or any other receptacles, and cleaning out rain gutters.

Protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeve clothing or long pants, and use insect repellents liberally, or use mosquito nets at night.

Both sides of the island continue to be experiencing a dengue epidemic. On the French side, since the start of the epidemic (week 2013-2 to 2013-44), there have been 3,000 suspected cases, 1,074 probable or confirmed cases, 38 hospitalised cases and one death. The predominant serotype is DENV-4.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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