Monday, October 06, 2014

Chikunguña Virus Spreading in Latin America, Caribbean

This post starts with an update on ebola, but it really is about  chikunguña, a viral disease that has quietly appeared in the Caribbean, and Central America and South America.

First, let me give you the ebola update. According to some experts, the latest ebola outbreak has killed more people in a handful of countries in sub-Saharan Africa than previous outbreaks. (Nearly 3,500 people had died from the disease in four West African countries as of the end of September) The coverage in our news media recently has centered  on the few cases that have appeared in the U.S., including the case discovered at a hospital in Dallas , the NBC News freelancer who is being treated in Nebraska,  and the sick child treated in Miami who DOES NOT APPEAR to have the virus. Thankfully, Doctors Without Borders and other organizations are providing updates about the majority of the victims in Africa. 

Spread by mosquitoes
Now to Chikunguña, a disease that might have afflicted tens of thousands in Latin America and the Caribbean. Chikunguña, which is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes such as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, can cause high fever, joint and muscle pain, and headache.

"Chikungunya does not often result in death, but the joint pain may last for months or years and may become a cause of chronic pain and disability," said the Panamerican Health organization.(PANO).  "There is no specific treatment for chikungunya infection, nor any vaccine to prevent it. Pending the development of a new vaccine, the only effective means of prevention is to protect individuals against mosquito bites."

Even though PANO points out that death is unlikely for most infected persons, 113 fatalities have been reported in relation to the disease in recent months, all in the Caribbean. One death, which was not included in  the PANO statistics as of  mid-September, was subsequently reported in  Colombia.

Classes suspended due to outbreak
El Salvador affected most in Central America
In Central America, there were 105 confirmed cases of the disease as of mid-September, but there were tens of thousands of other "suspicious cases."

The largest number of confirmed infections was in El Salvador, which reported 54 cases, followed by Panama with 25 and Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica each in the teens. According to the Costa Rican newspaper Tico Times, more than 16,000 suspected cases had been detected in El Salvador as of mid-September. Authorities suspended classes in seven municipalities because of the outbreak.

That number might be conservative.  "In the case of El Salvador, there Health Ministry was reporting more than 22,000 suspected cases, including 381 infants under 1year of age and 2,367 between the age of 1 and 9," said "It is worth mentioning that these cases were determined through a diagnosis by a physician and were not submitted to lab tests."

Albuquerque connection
Which brings us to the connection to Albuquerque. The local Friends of the Children of El Salvador (FOCES) has had long relationship with the San Salvador-based  Association for the Promotion of the Human Rights of the Children of El Salvador Aprodheni,

Many of the cases in El Salvador have been detected in the area served by Aprodheni, and Gil Pinitn, director of the organization, is seeking financial assistance to help purchase supplies to fight the virus.(According to, chikunguña has been detected in 90% of the municipalities in El Salvador. About 54% of the cases involved children under age 9).

If you'd like to help, write a check to FOCES, and mail it  to Mark Peceny, 7713 Summer Ave NE, Albuquerque, N.M., 87110.

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