Canadians travelling to the Indian subcontinent and exotic resorts in the Indian Ocean, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the Philippines should be vigilant about the emergence of a new dengue-like virus, chikungunya. This illness produces a severe and painful arthritis that can last for weeks or months.
According to Canada’s leading tropical and travel medicine expert, Dr. Jay Keystone, chikungunya (no relation to chickens or bird flu) is a mosquito-borne virus that has spread throughout the Seychelles and the Indian subcontinent, and has even recently penetrated northeastern Italy, where more than 150 cases have been reported.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention, the spread of chikungunya in Italy, in the area of Ravenna, is the first local transmission of the virus in Europe and could presage a much broader spread of the disease throughout the continent.
Dr. Keystone, professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and staff physician at the Centre for Travel and Tropical Medicine, Toronto General Hospital, spoke about chikungunya at the annual general meeting of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA) on September 18. He said that unlike malaria, which is spread by night-biting mosquitoes, chikungunya is spread by mosquitoes during the day when people are out and active.
Dr. Keystone also told the THIA that malaria continues to be a persistent problem, particularly among Canadian residents returning home after visiting friends and family (VFRs) in countries where malaria is prevalent—especially the Indian subcontinent, Asia, and Africa. He noted that about half the cases of malaria encountered in Canada are brought in by VFRs, and that VFRs now make up about 40 per cent of Canadians who undertake international travel.
He emphasized that “fever in a returned traveller from a country where there is malaria is malaria until proven otherwise.”