Chikungunya virus

Chikungunya virus

Published: 14 July 2014

The situation

Members may be aware that the French Ministry of Health has recently published an alert about the continued risk of the mosquito born chikungunya virus, with respect to outbreaks in the French West Indies and French Guyana.

This is in response to the further spread of the virus since it was first spotted in the Caribbean in late 2013.

The virus

This virus is transmitted by mosquito bites and at present there is no vaccine or cure.

While first identified in Tanzania in the 1950s, the virus has spread and can now be found across large areas of the world including areas in southern Europe, Africa, Asia and since late 2013 it has also been reported for the first time in the Caribbean. This signals a further spread of the virus across the globe.

In the Caribbean the virus can be found across significant sections of the Caribbean Islands, particular the central and eastern areas as well as some northern areas of the South American continent.

Symptoms are similar to those of dengue fever and can typically arise 3-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Typical symptoms include fever, joint pain, headaches, muscle pain, joint swelling and rashes.

While not typically fatal, the symptoms can be debilitating and patients may need up to a week to recover, although joint aches can last longer.

Treatment includes rest, a lot of water to prevent dehydration, as well as prescribed medicine to assist with the treatment of fever and discomfort.

Loss prevention

While this virus is not typically fatal, and most people recover after a while, the debilitating effects can be serious. During the height of an infection, crewmen may not be able to effectively and safely carry out their duties and should be given sufficient rest, especially if seriously weakened or feverish. As members can appreciate, an outbreak which affects several crew at the same time could have a significant operational impact on the vessel, and therefore it is important to guard against such a virus.

Members should advise crew to take prudent steps to ensure their health and welfare when calling at ports in countries where such mosquito borne diseases are present.

Steps include:

  1. supplying crew with mosquito repellent, in particular those containing DEET
  2. wearing long sleeve and trouser leg clothing
  3. using mosquito nets for sleeping quarters
  4. using window screens for all windows that may be opened in the accommodation section during a port call
  5. draining out / removing any pools of stagnant water on the vessel (something as simple as a bucket half full of rain water can be a risk)
  6. avoid shore side visits to marshland areas

Should any crewman fall sick, it is important to seek appropriate medical advice. Any on board treatment should always be in co-ordination with the advice of a qualified health care professional. In case of serious situations, it may be necessary to consider an urgent recourse to shore side medical facilities and / or evacuation from the vessel.

Important to note is that aspirin may not be an appropriate medicine for a person suspected to suffer from the chikungunya virus due to its anti-blood clotting properties.

Further information

Members wishing to consult further information may wish to have reference to the following published by the Centre for Disease Control in the United States as well as from the World Health Organisation.

The Association is grateful to correspondents France P&I in France, Steers / Caiconsult International in Barbados as well as Alain Demont in Martinique for assisting with this update.