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Dengue Fever, Chikungunya and Zika Virus

Dengue fever, Chikungunya virus (or Chik-V) and the Zika virus are present in the British Virgin Islands and throughout the greater Caribbean. All can be very debilitating and all three are transmitted by the female Aedes Egyptae mosquito. The good news is that although there are no vaccines to prevent or cure any of them, all three are preventable.

Because mosquitoes are the culprit, it makes sense to protect yourself from being bitten in the first place. "Off", or any product containing Deet works best to reduce the chance of being bitten.

These bloodthirsty varmints are attracted to dark colours and for some reason, dark blue and black are their favourite colours. When they get in my house, they always lurk around my black purse and the sides of my stainless steel refrigerator, which are also black. Wearing light or pale colours such as white, yellow, pink, etc. will help to reduce the chance of you becoming an attractive target.

Mosquitoes tend to hang out in areas that are damp, protected from direct sunlight, have little to no wind and they prefer areas where lots of plants and trees are present. They do not like sunny or windy areas.

On beaches during the heat of the day or when out on the water sailing, the likelihood of being bitten is drastically reduced. However, at night, when the winds die down any exposed and unprotected skin becomes a major target for the little so and so's. Wearing lightweight long pants, shoes, socks, and long-sleeved shirts will help to prevent mosquito bites. All exposed skin (other than around the mouth and eyes) should be treated with Deet.

Neither dengue fever or Chikungunya can be spread by human contact. The delivery system is always via an infected female mosquito unless of course you share a needle or receive a blood transfusion from an infected person during the contagious period. Once a mosquito bites an infected human being, that mosquito has just become a carrier. If that same mosquito then bites you, you have just been delivered a nasty little surprise. Zika is somewhat different as it is now believed that Zika can be sexually transmitted.

Several diseases mimic one another in regards to the symptoms. Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, Zika virus and West Nile disease all resemble one another ... to a certain extent. Thankfully, West Nile is not present in the BVI.

Dengue Fever Symptoms:

  • High Fever that comes on suddenly
  • Pain Behind the Eyes
  • Abdominal Pain, Nausea and Vomiting
  • General Weakness
  • Severe Headache
  • Mild to Severe Muscular and Joint Pain
  • Skin Rash and Bruising
  • Mild Bleeding (gums and nose)

Until recently, it was believed that there were four strains of dengue fever. Unfortunately, a 5th strain was discovered in 2013 by Doctor Nikos Vasilakas, a Ph.D. with the University of Texas department of pathology.

I have had dengue fever 4 times since moving to Tortola and it can be truly miserable. I swear, even my eyebrows hurt. I thought I was done with this nasty disease. Hopefully, I will be spared the 5th strain.

I spent a truly horrid 9 nights back in the 90's sleeping on an air mattress in my bathroom because I simply couldn't manage the additional 12 feet I had to travel to get from my bed to the bathroom. It was a horrible experience. Thankfully, not all the strains are that severe. With some of the lesser strains, the suffering and discomfort generally ends more quickly and is "somewhat" less debilitating.

It takes 4 to 6 days after being bitten for the symptoms of Dengue to appear. The symptoms can last up to 10 days and sometimes are followed by another week or so of feeling quite lethargic.

Treatment for Dengue Fever:

Unfortunately, there is little that can be done for those suffering from dengue other than bed rest, and drinking plenty of fluids.

All NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that contain Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Ketoprofen or Naproxen should be avoided. It should be noted that NSAIDS can exacerbate hemorrhagic symptoms of this disease.

Some dengue sufferers have experienced relief from the symptoms by taking pain relievers containing acetaminophen or codeine. I am allergic to codeine and acetaminophen did nothing for me ... but "they say" it helps some people. Mostly you can expect to suffer for at least a week and perhaps longer ... with very little relief from the symptoms.

Chikungunya Virus

In 2014, the BVI experienced a nasty outbreak of Chikungunya which rapidly swept through the territory. Upwards of 600 cases were reported over a period of just a few months. Since then, it has basically disappeared but I am sure it is still present to a much smaller degree and it is likely some cases may go unreported.

I know a lady who was convinced she had Chikungunya recently, but when asked if she went to the doctor to confirm, the answer was no ... she doesn't like doctors.

Chikungunya Virus Symptoms:

The incubation period is usually 3 to 7 days but can be as long as 12 days. The Symptoms usually last 7 to 10 days. However, the joint pain can last much longer.
  • High Fever that comes on suddenly
  • Muscle Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Severe Headache
  • Moderate to Severe Joint Pain
  • Rash (in about 50% of all cases)

Secondary symptoms may develop but may not be present in all cases:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Fatigue
  • Partial Loss of Taste

Treatment for Chikungunya Virus:

Once again, other than bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids, nothing much can be done to ease the suffering of anyone struck by this nasty virus. If there is any such thing as "good news" about Chikungunya, it is that once you have had it, you can't get it again.

Unlike dengue, NSAIDS, and other pain relievers may be used to reduce fever and pain to a certain extent. Having said that, I am told very little is effective in reducing the pain. It is a case of hang on and prepare for a bumpy ride.

If living with anyone that has contracted Chikungunya, you will need to take every precaution to ensure the rest of the household does not become infected during the contagious period, which usually lasts about 7 days after symptoms appear. Consult your doctor to get all the facts.

Use Deet products, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and it would be a good idea to sleep under a mosquito net. The infected person needs to do the same to prevent being bitten by any mosquitoes, which could potentially contribute further to the transmission cycle.

Zika Virus

In 2015, another mosquito-borne virus arose in the Caribbean and in various other countries worldwide ... the very mysterious Zika virus. What seemed like a horrendous plague hit Brazil, with thousands of cases reported in 2014. By 2015, more than 2,300 Zika-infected babies had been born and diagnosed with microcephaly. It was a nightmare of the first order. I am told the symptoms of those affected can be relatively mild in comparison to either Dengue Fever or Chikungunya, but isn't very pleasant either. Some more extreme cases were reported in various parts of the world that have actually resulted in death.

On August 24th, 2016, the BVI Ministry of Health announced the first 5 cases of the Zika virus had been confirmed through blood tests. Over the following couple of months, that number rose to 25 confirmed cases and more were "suspected". Since November 2016, however ... no new cases have been reported and all the hoopla surrounding this very mysterious outbreak basically vanished. It's one of those things that make you go "Hmmmm".

Throughtout the greater Caribbean, there was a rash of confirmed cases, both before and during the short-lived outbreak here in the BVI. The countries affected included Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, US Virgin Islands (in both St. Thomas and St. Croix), Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Barths, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire ... but those too seem to have mysteriously come to an end very abruptly.

The only way to confirm any case of Zika, Dengue Fever or Chikungunya is for a blood test to be taken. It takes 7 to 10 days to receive the blood test results.

I am not any kind of a conspiracy theorist, but if I were going to become one ... the Zika virus would likely be where I would start. It's just too weird that it came to a "STOP" ... just like that. Unfortunately for thousands of babies and their parents, it didn't stop nearly soon enough.

Happily though, as of March 1st 2017, I have not heard of any new cases of the Zika virus in the British Virgin Islands for more than a year.

Zika Virus Symptoms:

The symptoms can include: lethargy, back, joint and muscle pain, headache, conjunctivitis (pink eye), pain behind the eyes, vomiting, fever and a skin rash. The symptoms in mild cases can last anywhere from a few days to a week. In more severe cases, it can last up to 10 days and sometimes longer.

Cautionary Note:

Though there is currently no scientific proof that the Zika virus is responsible, many doctors and scientists strongly suspect that this virus may be connected to thousands of cases of microcephaly in babies. Microcephaly is a devastating disease that causes abnormal growth of the head and brain, in utero, and may result in a stillbirth. For babies that survive, there is no known cure for microcephaly.

It is also highly probable that Zika was connected to an increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome that emerged in areas where the virus was present.

It is recommended by many in the medical profession that pregnant women in particular should take every precaution to guard against mosquito bites and may want to reconsider traveling to areas known to have an active virus outbreak.

There are some who do not believe that the Zika Virus is responsible for these birth defects. Please see article: Zika Virus - What they are not telling you. You'll have to draw your own conclusions as to what happened and whom you should believe. My take is that regardless of what was responsible for the spread of this disease, it's better to be safe than sorry. Use bug repellents at all times if you believe you are at risk.

Treatment for Zika Virus:

Currently, there is no cure, specific treatment or vaccine available for the Zika virus. However, on Thursday June 23, 2016, European scientists announced a breakthrough. They believe they have discovered antibodies that will attack the Zika virus, which could eventually lead to a vaccine ... not only for Zika but for Dengue Fever as well.

In late August, 2016 researchers at Florida State and John Hopkins Universities discovered some already existing drugs that may help protect fetal nerve cells from dying, causing microcephaly in the process. One of the drugs is already FDA approved. Much more research and testing must be performed to substantiate these claims, but if proven to be true, the race to find a cure for the Zika virus (and its side effects) could be one step closer to the finish line.

For now though, not being bitten is the only real preventative measure. Anyone carrying the virus can spread it if bitten by a mosquito which then bites someone else. It is also believed that this virus can be sexually transmitted. It is recommended that men who have had Zika either abstain from having sex or use a condom for a minimum of 6 months after being infected. Women who have had the virus should abstain or be certain their partner uses a condom for a minimum of 8 weeks after being infected.

Throughout their illness, those who have the virus should continue to apply Deet. Sufferers should be sure to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Avoid taking any NSAIDs such as Aspirin unless Dengue Fever has been ruled out, as this can pose a risk of hemorrhage. Use acetaminophen or paracetamol to reduce pain and fever.

Sandfly Bites - AKA Sand Fleas, Midges, No-see-ums, Gnats, etc.:

Sand flies are known by many different names, but regardless of what you call them, they are tiny little beasts that deliver really annoying and very itchy bites that can become nasty (raised) red welts. I have seen visitors covered from head to toe with bites, and believe me, they are no fun. I am one of the lucky ones, they don't seem to like me, but some members of my family are not as lucky.

Happily, Deet works for these little blighters as well as for mosquitoes, so as long as you are armed with your Deet, you will be fine. Pregnant women and persons with hypersensitive skin may want to use Lemon Eucalyptus spray instead. For children or adults who really can't stand putting bug repellents on their face or neck, you might try this.

Last updated: Mar 1st 2017
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