Canadian and US public health agencies have issued a travel advisory for the Caribbean island of St. Martin because of an outbreak of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne viral disease that can cause intense joint and muscle pain as well as fever and headaches that can persist for several weeks.
To date, the World Health Organization has reported 10 confirmed cases of chikungunya in St. Martin, a French Caribbean dependency which shares an island in the northeast Caribbean with the Dutch constituent country of St. Maarten.
The island of St. Martin/St. Maarten is a popular winter tourist destination for Canadians, Americans, and Europeans.
Chikungunya is typically found in Africa and Asia, but it has been reported in the Americas, including Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC): “There have been imported cases reported previously in the Americas…but these mark the first cases of local (autochthonous) transmission of chikungunya virus in the region.”
PHAC recommends that travellers protect themselves from mosquito bites when travelling to either St. Martin or St. Maarten. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises travellers to the area to use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and also to use air conditioning as well as window and door screens to keep the insects out. The CDC also advise that further spread of the chikungunya virus to other Caribbean islands is possible.
The St. Martin tourism office reports that both sides of the island are cooperating closely to reduce mosquito breeding and to increase public awareness about the importance of dumping out stagnant water.
Travellers returning home from the region are urged to consult a doctor or visit a travel health clinic if they experience any chikungunya symptoms. There is no vaccine for the virus, but it is rarely fatal, although infected victims do report intense joint pain and fever that can last for weeks, even months. Chikungunya’s symptoms are similar to those of dengue fever, which is also spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
The island is already battling an outbreak of dengue fever.