Chikungunya Cases In Marshall Islands Skyrocket

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Over 800 reportedly sickened by mosquito-borne virus

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, June 22, 2015) – The number of confirmed and suspected cases of Chikungunya continues to skyrocket in the Marshall Islands, with over 800 reported by the Ministry of Health as of earlier last week.

The outbreak started in February and has continued unabated, spreading to many remote outer islands. This is the first known outbreak of Chikungunya in the Marshall Islands and follows on the heels of a major outbreak in Kiribati earlier this year.

The mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has now reached half of the Pacific and is likely to spread to non-affected countries in the region over the next five years, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Deputy Director of Public Health Dr. Yvan Souarès earlier this month.

He said five countries are currently experiencing outbreaks, including in addition to the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Samoa and American Samoa.

Three months into the Marshall Islands outbreak, a mosquito-spraying campaign was launched by a multi-agency government group in early May.

Mosquito spraying was effective during a dengue fever outbreak in 2011 in Majuro. The first week of spraying in May targeted about 50 of the over 4,000 homes on Majuro, as well as other key locations around the capital atoll.

Spraying then stopped for several weeks as officials surveyed sites. Spraying resumed on June 1 and continued for two weeks, then was halted two weeks as some of the spray team was involved in a non-related workshop. Spraying was expected to resume this coming week.

In the meantime, Majuro has reported the most cases, with 520 confirmed or suspected cases of Chikungunya. Ebeye Island, the second urban center in the country, reports 63.

The numbers on the outer islands to date are 261, with over half of these from Ailinglaplap. Eight other outer islands report from three to 44 cases.

The illness produces flu-like symptoms, including joint pain, fever, head and muscle aches. It also can cause joint swelling and skin rashes. Most victims of the illness in Majuro report swollen and painful hands, fingers, knees and ankles.

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