Rare Fever Apparently Not Here, But Mosquito That Carries It Is

Madagascar has confirm­ed the presence in at least one person of a rare mosquito-borne disease, chi­kungunya fever, that has so far in­fected over 180,000 people in the Indian Ocean region in the last year, the World Health Organi­za­tion revealed on Monday, accord­ing to media reports.

Chikungunya fever, a viral infection for which there is no known cure, is believed to have killed 93 peo­ple in the nearby French territory of Reunion.

The Madagascar infection was de­­tected in the eastern Malagasy town of Toamasina in the midst of a general outbreak of dengue fever, Leonard Tapsoba, WHO country director for Madagascar, told Reut­ers. WHO estimates indicate that since March of last year 157,000 people on the island, about 20 pe­r­cent of the population, may have been infected with chikun­gun­ya fe­ver. In a single week last month, 22,000 Reunion islanders are be­lieved to have contracted it.

Since January, thousands more cases have been reported in May­otte, Seychelles and Mauritius, where WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook arrived Tuesday to re­view efforts to control the disease.

Its symptoms include high fever, chills, headache, joint pain and rash, and it may cause vomiting, ac­cording to the US Centers for Di­sease Con­trol and Prevention.

It is named after the Swahili word for “that which bends up,” de­scribing sufferers’ arthritic posture.

No medication has yet been de­veloped for the disease, but it is rarely fatal. Symptoms occur be­tween four and seven days after in­fection and can persist for several weeks, according to the WHO.

The chikungunya virus is carried by the day-biting Tiger mosquito, which is also responsible for the spread of dengue fever, a disease pres­ent in Cambodia. An outbreak of chikungunya occurred last April in Indonesia’s West Lom­bok and in Malaysia’s Port Klang in 1999, but is not present in Cam­bo­­dia, a health official said Wednes­day.

“Never in Cambodia,” said Dr Ngan Chan Tha, director of the Health Ministry’s dengue control pro­gram. “Transmission occurs by the same mosquito but it isn’t here. Only dengue.”

He did concede that given the sim­­i­larity of the symptoms caused by dengue and chikungunya, it was possible that some cases of the disease had been misdiagnosed.

Every year, blood samples from be­tween five and 10 percent of cases where dengue fever is suspected are sent for testing to the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh.

The testing is to identify which of the four serotypes of dengue virus is present in a given case. This random testing from across the country would reveal the presence of the chikungunya virus, Ngan Chan Tha said, adding that so far it has not been detected.

Chikungunya “manifests itself with practically the same symptoms,” as dengue, he said, but he re­mained convinced that the disease was not present in Cambodia.

 

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