The chikungunya outbreak in the Caribbean and Central and South American countries continues to spread with no sign of slowing down. Experts at the CDC are warning that the mosquito-borne disease is likely to continue to infect travelers to the region during the rest of this year and beyond.
According to the CDC, the outbreak, which began last December, had caused an estimated 795,000 chikungunya fever cases in 37 countries and territories in the Western Hemisphere as of the end of October. More than 1,600 travelers returning to the U.S. with chikungunya fever have been reported as of Nov. 4. Before this outbreak, an average of 28 travelers with chikungunya fever returned to the U.S. each year.
The CDC estimates that about 9 million people travel between the U.S. and the Caribbean each year. Travelers who will be visiting the Caribbean or Central or South America should be aware of the risk of chikungunya this fall and winter and should remember to use insect repellent. The beginning of fall means that mosquito problems in the continental United States will be decreasing, said Roger S. Nasci, PhD, chief of the CDCs Arboviral Diseases Branch, in a news release. However, travelers to areas where the chikungunya outbreak continues are at risk of becoming infected. It is important that travelers understand these risks and take appropriate actions to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.
Preventing mosquito bites is the best way to avoid chikungunya and other mosquito-borne illnesses. Some travelers may be more likely to get chikungunya, depending on where they travel and the length of their trip. Travelers in the high-risk groups more likely to have severe case of the disease if they are infected include people over age 65 and those with arthritis or serious underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes. CDC advises travelers in high-risk groups to discuss their travel plans with their healthcare provider before leaving.
Symptoms of the chikungunya virus can include fever, joint pain, muscle aches, headaches, joint swelling or rash.
Infection with chikungunya virus is rarely fatal, but joint pain can often be severe and debilitating. The virus is not spread between people. There is no vaccine and no specific treatment for the infection. Infection is thought to provide lifelong immunity, according to the CDC.
Before taking a trip, travelers can review CDC recommendations at www.cdc.gov/travel (under travel notices) and learn about ongoing chikungunya activity at www.cdc.gov/chikungunya.