I Have a Spring Break Trip Booked to Mexico – Should I be Concerned about Chickungunya?

Austin family medicine ChickungunyaIf you are anything like me, you simply walk outside and the mosquitos are all over you. That gives us pause for concern with the widespread infection potential of Chikungunya (pronounced: chik-en-gun-ye). This virus is transmitted by mosquitoes to people. Among the most common symptoms of this worrisome virus are high fever and severe joint pain (to the point of not even being able to stand up straight). Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint swelling and inflammation, a serious rash, and an obscenely painful headache.

The virus probably originated in Africa and has also occurred in Asia, Europe and within the Indian and Pacific Ocean islands. More recently it has spread to the Americas, Caribbean, Pacific Northwest and is even found in Alaska, where there is already a large mosquito population.

Chances are good that if you have a Spring Break planned to Florida, anywhere in the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central America, you will encounter an area that has had or does have mosquitoes infected with Chikungunya. Precautions must be taken to help minimize your risk of getting bites. Here is what we recommend:

  1. Try to be on yellow alert for potential high risk areas at all times. Standing water, inland trails, and watery areas in forests are all wonderful breeding grounds for mosquitos. Try to stay in areas that receive a reasonable breeze or under a ceiling fan that can literally blow them away.
  1. Wear long sleeves and long pants. There are several companies (such as Coolibar™) that provide cooling long sleeved pants and shirts that you can do anything in, like swim, snorkel, hike, or just wear when you are at a higher risk of mosquito bite. They are also usually sun protective, a very convenient feature
  2. And, finally, use an assortment of mosquito deterrents. They actually work!

On my recent trip to the Tahitian islands we were greeted with stern and scary warnings at the airport advising that this mosquito-borne disease was everywhere there. In fact, Lindsay Lohan had just returned from vacationing there and reported on her Facebook that she had contracted it. So, we were thrilled that we were packing the long sleeved swimming shirts (a.k.a. mosquito repellent shirts) and matching long pants. But to make sure of protection in jungles and the like, we used an array of American DEET products as well as local citronella sprays.

Good luck and do not take this potential stow away from your Spring Break vacation lightly.


Dr. Sharon Sneed