[Photo: In the rainy season, standing water is everywhere. Mosquito control is very difficult.]
Haiti, and at least 16 other Caribbean countries have been hit with a mosquito borne virus with the odd name of chikungunya. It appeared first on the island of St Martin in December. At this point suspected cases of the illness surpass 100,000 in number and there is no reason to think that the infection rate will subside any time soon. The Lamp clinic is right in the middle of the outbreak.
Photo (CDC): aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus mosquitoes. Aedes mosquitoes are the main transmission route for the disease. This type of mosquito usually bites during the day. They are found all over the world.
In Haiti, Port-au-Prince is the center of the outbreak with thousands of people infected. Although the infection is rarely fatal it is very debilitating. Chikungunya is an African word that means “contorted with pain” — a reference to the fact that a primary symptom is extreme joint pain. Fever and joint pain are the most common symptoms but headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and rash may also occur. It can be life threatening to newborns, elderly persons, and those with existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. There is no treatment for the disease, but drugs such as acetaminophen help to reduce the pain and discomfort. The price of these drugs has skyrocketed over the last two months.
The area surrounding the Lamp clinic is a low-lying mosquito-ridden area. The Bwa Nèf neighborhood is closed off, on two sides, by a huge tract of swampy land. The new disease has hit Bwa Nèf hard. These days, when our staff arrive at the clinic in the morning there are people lying on the ground, groaning from the pain of this ugly addition to the regular health menaces. And our staff have not avoided the pain either: all of our staff (excepting only one doctor, so far) have already experienced the disease first-hand. It has been a harsh month for our staff but we are not working in Bwa Nèf to avoid challenges. The community of Bwa Nèf needs our commitment (contorted in pain, or not!)