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Debilitating Virus Infects Island Paradise

Given a choice between dengue fever or another mosquito-borne disease called chikungunya fever, choose dengue every time. Neither has an available vaccine or treatment, but chikungunya (pronounced chik-un-GUHN-ya) is far more severe – it literally means “that which bends up” because patients are often stooped over from debilitating joint pain.

If you’re a resident of the Caribbean island of St. Martin (or lucky enough to be traveling there for the holidays) you are now at risk of both. The island, roughly the size of Manhattan and located some 300 kilometers east of Puerto Rico, has the first confirmed outbreak of chikungunya in the Western Hemisphere.

As of late last week there were 26 laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease on the island, with over 100 total cases suspected. Chikungunya has been found in both the French and Dutch parts of the island. It has also spread to the nearby island of Martinque, which has two laboratory-confirmed cases. And representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the virus could spread to other Caribbean islands and the surrounding mainland areas in the coming months or years. The outbreak in such a prime spot for tourism also heightens the risk of a future outbreak in the United States.

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