The same day that Canada issued a travel advisory about the epidemic sweeping the Caribbean, I went down with my own up close and personal experience.
This had not come as a surprise, during the last few months we had heard of and seen multiple cases of this mosquito borne virus Typical symptoms include severe to mild headaches, joint and muscle pain, cramps, fever and skin rashes. Some people described the pain as “if their bones were breaking and the pieces grinding against each other”.
Luckily, my own personal taste appeared relatively mild. It started with dizziness, pain in my toes, ankles, knees and fingers. Causing major mobility issues as I was about as active as an arthritic octogenarian. Headaches soon followed!
There is no treatment for chikungunya which originated near Tanzania in Africa where the name in Makonde means “that which bends up” referring to the contorted posture of people afflicted with severe joint pain. Only the symptoms can be treated, painkiller’s containing acetaminophen such as Paracetamol & Naproxen are recommended. As well as bed rest and good hydration.
After four days I was back on my feet and off the painkillers. By day five I decided to get back to duty (currently housesitting) and help take the dogs for their morning walk. I only made it half way up the hill before the pain in knees and ankles sent me home. An hour later, I was covered with a blotchy rash and back in bed. These relapses are common and some people report that they are more severe than the original symptoms.
I was once again lucky and my relapse was short lived, my brush with chikungunya lasted only a week, unlike personal acquaintances who are still suffering after three weeks. Michael has avoided the virus so far and has been waging war on any mosquito that comes close.
The advisory recommends that the best way to avoid contracting the virus is to avoid being bitten. That is easier said than done, unless you are willing to bathe in Deet three times a day and cover up head to toe in light colored clothing. Staying in during dawn and dusk will not help either, as the mosquito responsible is active throughout the day, hanging out in shady spots such as nice cool houses waiting for its next victim.
Would we recommend getting Chikungunya? No, however I am not sure if I would cancel a prepaid trip because of it. Saying that, it could certainly ruin a two-week vacation. As with any other advisory, it is up to you to arm yourself with as much information as possible, weigh the pros and cons and then decide for yourself.
I do recommend bringing a plentiful supply of repellants containing Deet as it is in short supply on the islands at the time of writing. You may also want to be prepared as we were and have a supply of the recommended painkiller’s handy.