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French health minister visits West Indies over chikungunya epidemic

French Health Minister Marisol Touraine
French Health Minister Marisol Touraine AFP PHOTO/KENZO TRIBOUILLARD

French health Minister Marisol Touraine visited the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique on Wednesday for a visit to assess a major epidemic of chikungunya, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes.


Guadeloupe and Martinique are used to dengue fever, transmitted by native mosquitoes
but chikungunya appeared in the French West Indies territories at the end of last year.

The virus is rarely fatal in itself but it is serious, bringing high fevers, severe joint pain and extreme fatigue.

At least 33 people have died so far – most of them elderly people whose fragile condition was worsened by the virus.

Over 13 per cent of the population of the two islands, about 100,000 people, have sought medical care.

A study of infection rates is underway, to see how many people actually carry the virus, or who are immune – because you can get chikungunya multiple times.

The health minister will meet with local health officials and review what is being put in place to treat people and track the epidemic – this at a time when the islands are expected to see an increase in visitors.

Some 400,000 people from Guadeloupe and Martinique live in mainland France and many are headed to the islands for the summer holidays

The risk is that they may bring it back with them when they leave.

The tiger mosquito, which transmits the virus, has been found in 18 French departments.

So far there have been no reported cases of chikungunya contracted in mainland France.

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