New Mosquito-Borne Illness Threatens Mexican Coastal Communities

If dengue fever wasn’t enough of a problem, Mexican health authorities are increasingly coping with a new mosquito-borne illness bearing an exotic name. Cases of the chikungunya virus contracted inside Mexico have now surpassed the 1,000 mark, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

So far, the tropical states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero have seen the bulk of cases. But as more communities, particularly along the Pacific coast of Guerrero report a sharp surge in new illnesses, the actual number of chikungunya cases across the country is likely far greater than the 1,060 reported this past weekend.

In Guerrero alone, 456 confirmed and between 4,875 and 6,000 suspected cases of chinkungunya have been reported. The sicknesses are on top of 777 cases of dengue registered in the southern Mexican state so far this year.

In an effort to eradicate mosquitoes that transmit the chikungunya virus, aerial spraying of insecticides got underway this week in the Guerrero tourist centers of Acapulco and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.

Persons bitten by an infected mosquito can become sick with chikungunya between 3-7 days after a bite. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), common symptoms of the chikungunya virus are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms can include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and rash.

No medicine is currently available to specifically treat chikungunya, but the CDC recommends that stricken individuals get plenty of rest and consume lots of fluids to stave off dehydration. In addition, the CDC lists ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen and paracetamol as pharmaceuticals that can relieve fever and pain.

“Chikungunya disease does not often result in death, but the symptoms can be severe and disabling,” the CDC states on its website. “Most patients feel better within a week. In some people, the joint pain may persist for months.”

Nonetheless, a rural leader in Guerrero blamed chinkungunya for brining on the deaths of five previously sickened persons.

“We have registered five deaths from the sufferings that were aggravated when the people came down with chinkungunya,” said Juana Guerrero Vargas, commissar of the Tenexpa ejido. “We have seen this because it attacks older people more intensely since they are the ones who have most illnesses with them.”

Guerrero authorities are especially concerned about the Costa Grande region between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo, where recent flooding from high Pacific waves destroyed buildings and left stagnant water in some places. Hundreds of new chikungunya cases are reported in the towns of San Luis de la Loma, El Suchil and Tecpan de Galeana, among others.

Felipe Abarca Herrera, head of Guerrero State Health District 5, urged residents to keep their homes and patios free of conditions that attract mosquitoes. The proliferation of abandoned homes in the region has created problems for health workers needing to enter properties as part of their eradication mission, Abarca said. He warned that people often confuse chikungunya with dengue, prompting individuals to take the wrong medicine.

Authorities worry that the chikungunya virus could further spread with the onset of the rainy season in the coming weeks. Pablo Kuri Montalvo, federal undersecretary of health, appealed for all hands on deck. “We aren’t going to diminish its progression. I don’t think we can achieve that” Kuri said. “But at least we can ensure that it does not happen so fast.”

The CDC reports that the chikungunya was first detected in the Americas on Caribbean islands in late 2013. It has since leapfrogged to other nations in the hemisphere including Mexico.

Sources: El Sur, May 12, 2015. Articles by Abel Salgado and Brenda Escobar. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), May 10, 11 and 12, 2015. Articles by Rodolfo Valadez Luviano and Hector Briseno. Norte/Agencia Reforma, May 9, 2015.

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