Every November, my brother Bill and his wife Faye head for Jamaica to recharge their batteries. They stay at the same North Coast resort and usually rent a car to roam about the island and bask in a rosy nostalgic glow. It’s something thousands of Jamaicans who now live abroad will be doing. Some of them will be going home to stay for good.
Who can blame them? Jamaica is an enchanted land and its allure is irresistible.
But, sadly, I have a word of warning to my fellow-Jamaicans who are heading home this year: Watch out for the mosquitoes. Yes, mosquitoes. I know, they have mosquitoes in America – and Canada, and just about everywhere else on the face of the earth. The problem is that these are not just any breed of mosquito, these are carriers of the chikungunya virus.
In a recent broadcast message, Jamaican Health Minister Fenton Ferguson warned that the chikungunya virus is spreading across Jamaica and “everyone is susceptible.”
The mosquito-borne virus spread rapidly through the Caribbean and parts of Latin America after it was introduced to the French dependency of St. Martin late last year.
It has even reached parts of the southern US. Cases have been reported in such states as Texas. And experts warn the virus could quickly make its way into Florida (where I live!) because Florida’s climate is so similar to that of the Caribbean.
Some deaths have been reported but the illness caused by this virus is rarely fatal. It’s very painful, however. Victims report such excruciating joint pain that they can’t walk. Symptoms also include fever, muscle pain, headaches and a rash.
There is no known cure or vaccine. The affliction spreads unchecked until populations gradually develop immunity to the virus.
Chikungunya, which has been known for decades in parts of Africa and Asia, is carried by the same mosquitoes that carry yellow fever and dengue fever. These mosquitoes usually bite during the day. Health authorities in the US warn travelers to countries with chikungunya virus to “use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens.”
I wonder why the powers that be haven’t eradicated the mosquitoes that carry this virus, the way they did with malaria. I read that the Tobago House of Assembly is embarking on an island-wide clean-up to combat the virus. The campaign includes spraying and clearing abandoned lots. But I don’t know of anything like that happening in Jamaica – or Florida.