There are horror tales of aching joints and heads. But exactly what is Chikungunya? Journalist Derek Fox has talked to Health Department staff and done a bit of background reading. This is what he’s come up with:
HEALTH AUTHORITIES are calling on householders on Rarotonga to tidy up their properties to get rid of potential mosquito habitats to stop the spread of the Dengue type virus Chikungunya.
Since October last year there have been nearly 700 reported cases of the virus, but it is likely many more have not been reported.
Health authorities want people to see a doctor or call them if they have the symptoms, so that they can send someone round to spray their properties to try and get rid of the mosquito that spreads it. Doctors and the hospital are reporting cases they see and pass on that information.
The authorities say people should take all precautions to prevent a major outbreak; they’re particularly concerned about what might happen if the virus isn’t controlled before the expected large influx of people coming from the outer islands and elsewhere, for the self-government celebrations at the end of July and early August.
While there are confusing reports about this disease here are the facts.
Chikungunya is one of a family of similar viruses, which have been found here in the Cook Islands, especially on Rarotonga. It is a close relative to Dengue fever and Zika.
A mosquito with the biological name Aedes Aegypti spreads Chikungunya; it only bites during the day, it’s particularly active around dawn and dusk, and it has worked out that humans are a good source of tucker and likes to live with or near us. It has distinctive black and white spots and unlike other mossies doesn’t like brackish water but will breed in clear still water, so it can live in all those receptacles that lie round our houses that hold water like open coconut shells, the containers we stand pot plants in, buckets, used cans, old tubs, tyres, anything like that.
We get the virus when an infected mosquito bites us to draw our blood. The symptoms kick in about three or four days after we’ve been bitten and can be debilitating; you can expect body aches, joint pain, fever and a rash. It can last as little as three or four days, but can also drag on for weeks or months. It really depends on how good your immune system is.
The young and the elderly can be badly affected; but so too can people with existing conditions like hypertension, diabetes, respiratory and heart problems.
This is no cure for all three of the dengue type virus, but you can get pain relief by taking something like panadol and resting.
Once you’re infected, you can help stop spreading the virus to your family and friends by taking precautions against being bitten again and passing it on. Apply mossie repellant or park under a mosquito net, spray the house or light a coil.
When a mossies short life comes to an end it takes the virus with it, females cannot pass it on to their offspring, and juvenile mosquitos can only get the virus by biting someone who has it. So we can stamp out all three of these viruses by cleaning the island up and getting rid of the places where mosquitos breed, and by taking precautions against being bitten – like applying repellant or burning coils. Or wearing clothes that cover up exposed skin.
Remember this mossie only operates and bites during the day. If you have the virus but haven’t reported it, you should tell the health authorities so they can come round and spray your property. You can be proactive and ask them to come and spray for a $35 fee. But cleaning up and getting rid of the mossie habitat is the best long-term solution. The highest number of cases have been reported from Te Au O Tonga vaka, particularly Tupapa-Maraerenga and Nikao, probably because of the high numbers of people moving around in that downtown Avarua area.
That’s particularly worrying to the health people, because that’s exactly where the largest number of outer island visitors will be congregating, around the island hostels and the auditorium.
While there have been hundreds of cases of Chikungunya on Rarotonga only three of the other islands have reported victims of the virus.
There have been six cases on Aitutaki, two on Manihiki – one of those two is believed to have spread it to Rakahanga where there have been 17 reported cases; but authorities say those little outbreaks have now been contained.
The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is a versatile critter; because of its fondness for human blood, in other countries it spreads other diseases like yellow fever.
Its lifecycle from egg to larvae to pupae to adult insect can take up to two weeks, and the insect and disease-spreading phase can be between two weeks and a month.
It’s about a month now before the pa enua visitors start arriving for the celebrations. That’s how long we’ve got.
Meanwhile tutaka household inspections begin on Monday, so it could be a busy weekend.