ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 09

Sri Lanka on chikungunya alert again

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

What is it?

Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. It is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti (the dengue mosquito), a daytime biter who is the primary vector in the CHIKV infection. Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito) too carries the infection to humans. These mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person infected with CHIKV. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other humans when they bite.

The general symptoms are fever, rash and joint pains. Rash typically appears on the first day of the illness. Other symptoms include headache, photophobia, fatigue, nausea and vomiting and sore throat.

There are no specific antiviral cures or vaccines for this infection. The patient needs lots of rest, fluids and Paracetamol to relieve discomfort caused by fever and joint pain.

With an outbreak of chikungunya being reported from South India, health authorities here have once again warned that it could spread to Sri Lanka and have initiated awareness campaigns and preventive programmes including the elimination of mosquito-breeding grounds. While about 300 Medical Officers of Health islandwide have been deployed to carry out surveillance on any sign of an outbreak, priority has been given to clean up public places including schools and work places.

Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit Director Nihal Abeysinghe said the MOH’s are supposed to submit weekly reports while hospital authorities too have been alerted to report on any unlisted diseases. Health officials believe chikungunya (CHIKV) outbreak in Southern India could spread to Sri Lanka through travellers infected by the disease coming here.

“Last time the epidemic broke out in the North and East experts suspected that it could have come from South India. We have to be vigilant this time and take all measures to prevent another outbreak of this viral disease. I cannot say if there is a risk or not at this juncture, but if infected people travel to Sri Lanka there is a possibility of the infection spreading,” Dr. Abeysinghe said.

Since October 2006 to July 2007 around 37,000 cases were reported from affected areas, Puttalam, Kalmunai, Colombo, Jaffna, Mannar, Batticaloa and Trincomalee but the risk of that number increasing has now grown with the current outbreak in South India.

Although according to medical reports those who have come down with Chikungunya once develop a life-long immunity against it, many people, here fear they may be vulnerable to the deadly disease again.

Colombo Municipal Council’s Chief Medical Officer Pradeep Kariyawasam said refugees coming back to Sri Lanka and settling down in camps in the North and East could bring the disease to Sri Lanka. He said continuous surveillance programmes of these areas could help to curb the spread of the infection.

Commenting on the recurrence of the viral infection, Dr. Kariyawasam said very little research had been done on CHIKV and it was difficult to say conclusively that it confers life-long immunity as there are instances where the virus structure could change.
“We have taken measures to control the breeding of mosquitoes within Colombo city but, the residents too should be vigilant about their own environment,” he said.

Tips to prevent
Avoiding mosquito bites by using protective clothing, mosquito repellents, coils or mosquito nets whenever possible is the best method of prevention from contracting Chikungunya.The most important factor is to eliminate mosquito breeding sites, especially getting rid of items like discarded tyres, plastic containers, coconut shells, bird baths and flower pots where there is a possibility of rain water stagnating and cleaning blocked drains.
CHIKV outbreak in India

More than 100,000 cases of CHIKV have been reported in Kerala, India. Deaths were reported from Trissur, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts of Kerala. Last week 5,887 cases of CHIKV were reported in Kochi, Kerala. The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology,which submitted a report on the situation said the largest number of those striken by the disease were found in Kerala.

An outbreak in June this year in Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam and Alappuzha districts of South Kerala claimed more than 50 lives. Health officials in the state of Orissa have reported a suspected outbreak of Chikungunya fever, with 642 recent cases including 4 deaths.More than 10 cases were reported from New Delhi.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.