America and the Caribbean are experiencing an epidemic that has been largely ignored by the rest of the world as it focuses on west Africa’s Ebola outbreak. The debilitating mosquito-borne chikungunya virus has infected almost one million people since it first emerged in America and the Caribbean less than a year ago. The virus has rapidly spread across the Americas, causing huge pressure on health services in some of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. 

 

The viral disease got celebrity touch with American actress Lindsay Lohan contracting the chikungunya virus while on vacation in French Polynesia. The celeb first tweeted a photo of herself on Dec. 27 jet skiing, noting that the picture was taken “before I got chikungya.” 

 

She posted another picture to her Instagram on Dec. 28: “In good faith with good people. I refuse to let a virus effect my peaceful vacation. be safe and happy on the new year all #wildfox and a positive, healthy new year,” she wrote in the photo’s caption.

In 2014, the Pan American Health Organization reported more than 355,000 cases of chikungunya fever in the Americas. About 232 cases have been reported to be in the United States according to the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases at the CDC (center for disease control). 

 

The Dominican Republic, the most popular Caribbean island for tourists last year with 4.7 million visitors, has recorded 500,000 cases. The epidemic has failed to attract international media attention amid the Ebola crisis, as deaths from chikungunya are relatively rare: in October, the World Health Organisation reported 152 deaths among 776,000 suspected cases in South America and the Caribbean. 

 

But chikungunya causes painful and debilitating symptoms in more than 80 per cent of those infected, and can exacerbate poverty due to missed work and medical expenses. Patients most commonly suffer painful and swollen joints, fever, headache, fatigue and a rash within three to seven days after an infected bite. The symptoms usually disappear within three weeks. However, arthritis, especially in the wrists and hands, can last for months, or years in some people, causing long-term disabilities.

By:K Koushik