According to CDC lab results, 767 people in the Dominican Republic have tested positive for the chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne illness that has quickly made its way around the Caribbean in recent months.
The Dominican Republic Ministry of Health confirmed the outbreak last Friday, noting that the majority of cases are in Nigua, which is within the province of San Cristobal.
Chikungunya causes fever and joint pain; while its not typically fatal, symptoms can last for months in some cases.
The World Health Organization initially reported virus transmission in Saint Martin during December of 2013.
Up until recently, the Dominican Republic had avoided the outbreak.
Concern Over High Numbers
According to the Dominican Ministry of Health, analysis of those taken ill and the viruss progression suggests that islanders were infected in mid-February.
Medical samples taken from the Dominican population were sent to the CDCs labs in Atlanta for testing, and the results only arrived back in the Dominican Republic last Thursday night.
Among the 767 positively-identified cases of chikungunya, 446 were among those living in open homes.
Significantly, 1,855 people live in those homes in the affected area, meaning that the numbers of those with the virus is likely to rise in coming weeks as health officials try to control its spread and emphasize ways to avoid mosquito bites.
Generally, it takes between three and seven days after infection for symptoms to arise.
Both Dominican and global health officials are urging caution in hopes of avoiding a wider outbreak of chikungunya.
On Saturday, politicians including San Cristobal Senator Tommy Galán held a work day in Nigua to raise awareness of viruss dangers and garner public support in flushing mosquitoes out of the area. P
eople who came out to help were put to work fumigating houses, streets and abandoned lots.
The Dominican Minister of Health, Freddy Hidalgo, spoke to the problem on Monday, tying it to World Health Day. In a similar vein to Galán, Hidalgo emphasized that it would take a concerted effort on the part of the public to eradicate the virus.
He expressed concern that the high incidence of open water or wells and open air houses in the Dominican Republic make mosquito-borne illnesses like chikungunya quick to spread, since the island has an ideal climate for mosquito reproduction.
The Dominican Republic has had trouble with other diseases transmitted by mosquito, as well, such as dengue fever.
While the CDC has only issued its lowest level travel alert for those considering going to the Dominican Republic, others are concerned that were being too lackadaisical about preventing the spread of viruses like chikungunya.
According to a report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, officials from the Pan American Health Organization feel that Caribbean countries in particular need to step up their efforts to battle insect-borne diseases.
PAHO noted that despite a decreasing incidence of illnesses such as dengue fever and malaria over the past few decades, a debilitating outbreak is still possible.
Additionally, given that the joint pain from chikungunya can last for months and, in some cases, result in permanent disability, its not something to take lightly.
The health organization called on governments in the Caribbean to maintain or increase funding for vector control programs, invest in clean water and waste management systems, and collaborate with other countries to devise solutions to the problem of mosquito-borne illnesses.