The number of imported, or travel-associated chikungunya cases in the United Kingdom has increased 12-fold from 2013 to 2014, according to new data from Public Health England.
In 2013, England, Wales and Northern Ireland recorded 24 imported chikungunya cases, while this number exploded to 295 in 2014 and the vast majority of cases (88%) were linked to travel to the Caribbean and South America.
In December 2013, the first autochthonous chikungunya cases were reported in the Western hemisphere on the island of St. Martin. Since then, the number of local transmission of the mosquito borne virus has exploded to over 1.3 million cases throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America and even Florida in the US.
There has been no local transmission of chikungunya in the UK.
This has prompted UK health officials to issue warnings concerning travel to the region and the risk of chikungunya.
Dr Hilary Kirkbride, head of Travel and Migrant Health at Public Health England (PHE), said:
Chikungunya is an unpleasant viral illness that can cause fever and joint pains, which in some patients may persist for a prolonged period. Prevention relies on avoiding mosquito bites particularly around dusk and dawn when day biting mosquitoes are most active, as there is no specific preventive medicine or vaccination against chikungunya.
Chikungunya is spread by mosquitos and is more usually found in parts of Asia and Africa but in recent years we have seen new areas of the world becoming affected, including the Caribbean, parts of America and some islands in the Pacific.
Dr Dipti Patel, joint director at National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC), said:
We strongly recommend travellers seek pre-travel advice from their GP, a specialist travel clinic or pharmacy at least 6 to 8 weeks before they travel. To minimise the risk of mosquito bites it is advisable to wear appropriate clothing to cover up, such as long sleeve tops and trousers, and to use insect repellents. If a traveller develops symptoms such as fever, rash or joint pain within 2 weeks of returning from a foreign trip, they should seek medical advice from their GP.
Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes such as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. It can cause high fever, join and muscle pain, and headache. Chikungunya does not often result in death, but the joint pain may last for months or years and may become a cause of chronic pain and disability.
There is no specific treatment for chikungunya infection, nor any vaccine to prevent it. Pending the development of a new vaccine, the only effective means of prevention is to protect individuals against mosquito bites.