Friday, February 17, 2006
The number of people suffering from a mosquito-borne virus on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion has reached 110,000, French health authorities said.
More than one in eight people on the French island -- a popular tourist destination -- have been hit by the chikungunya virus, which causes crippling joint pain, with 22,000 new cases recorded in the past week.
Although not known to be fatal, the disease has been linked to the deaths of 52 people, according to epidemiologist Philippe Quenel, of the National Institute for Health Monitoring (INVS).
Hundreds of French soldiers and firefighters have been sent in reinforcement to the island, and are working day and night to help eradicate the mosquitos that transmit the virus.
Tourism to the volcanic island -- which boasts dramatic mountain scenery -- has been badly hit, with bookings down between 30 and 40 percent.
A French overseas department with a population of 776,000, Reunion first detected chikungunya in March 2005. The current epidemic is the largest recorded anywhere, according to French authorities on Friday.
Chikungunya -- a Swahili word meaning "that which bends up" -- is not known to be fatal but can cause painful swelling of body joints, leaving victims stooped and limiting their movements. Symptoms eventually disappear over time. There is no vaccine.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) states:
Between 28 March 2005 and 12 February 2006, 1 722 cases of chikungunya have been notified by physicians from a sentinel network in La Réunion, including 326 cases reported during the week 6 to 12 February. Estimations from a mathematical model indicate that 110 000 people may have been infected by chikungunya virus since March 2005 in La Réunion, including 22 000 persons during the week 6 to 12 February. During the first week of February, other countries in the south west Indian Ocean have reported cases: Mauritius (206 cases) and the Seychelles (1 255 cases).
Because of the extensive outbreaks in the region, WHO is planning to send a team from the Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) and headquarters to assess the control measures under way. These include anti-vectoral activities; an extensive public health education campaign using mass media to sensitize the population about protective measures; and reinforcement of epidemiological surveillance and vectoral surveillance. The team will discuss a sub-regional strategy for surveillance and control of chikungunya and other arboviruses with national authorities. They will visit La Réunion, Madagascar, Mauritius and coordinate with the AFRO vector control mission to the Seychelles.
Chikungunya, a viral disease, is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes, typically Aedes aegypti, although there may be other competent mosquito vectors. The name, chickungunya, comes from the Swahili for stooped walk, reflecting the physique of a person suffering from the disease. The disease has been described in Africa, South-East Asia, southern India and Pakistan. It occurs principally during the rainy season.
Chikungunya is rarely fatal. Symptoms appear between 4 and 7 days after the patient has been bitten by the infected mosquito. A high fever and headache occur, with significant pains in the joints (ankles, wrists) and can persist for several weeks. The main preventive measure is to stop the proliferation of mosquitoes by reducing their breeding grounds.