Thursday, October 22, 2015

New Disease in Nicaragua

Wow!  As if the poorest countries in the middle of the earth don’t have enough with which to deal, NOW we have chikungunya (pronunciation: \chik-en-gun-ye)!  Chikungunya is another mosquito-borne virus that showed up in Tanzania in 1952.

The virus is carried by the mosquitoes that come out during the daytime like the dengue virus carrying mosquitoes.  It is often confused with dengue.  The main symptoms are fever and joint pain that can last for as long as 12 months though that is unusual.  Sometimes the joint pain can be severe.  Other symptoms that might accompany the virus are vomiting, diarrhea and rash.

“Doblarse por el dolor” or “bent by pain” is a common description of the disease.  In August there were 5,000 documented cases in Nicaragua.  I suspect that has increased.  The virus is certainly in Ciudad Sandino. Many of our staff have had it including Pat, Becca and her two girls. 

The symptoms can last from 2-12 days and there is no treatment, only easing the symptoms.  The only prevention is to avoid getting bitten by the little pesky mosquito (bug spray), though researchers are close to finding a vaccine.

The Ministry of Health is trying to contain the virus through spraying in communities.  Our clinic is treating the symptoms of many patients.  Unfortunately for many, they return with recurring joint pain for several months and this takes additional resources to buy medication.  Sometimes the joint pain is severe enough that people cannot work.

Chikungunya is not by-and-large a seriously dangerous disease, though if someone who is weak or has a compromised immune system, it is deadly.  It is considered a tropical disease that many doctors in the U.S. or Europe know little about, BUT with climate change is spreading north…there are cases in Northern Italy, France and in the United States.  Chikungunya came to the Americas through travel from the Caribbean.

Chikungunya is just another example of how it is crucial that we work globally to limit climate change and to treat diseases together, develop vaccines, and care about the sick in the poorer nations. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.” -- Kathleen