Story by Chris Meehan.
A mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya is spreading rapidly throughout the Caribbean, with more than 700,000 suspected cases in the region, according to the Pan American Health Organization. In a newspaper report, Grenada’s prime minister said the virus has hit that island nation very hard.
Grenada branch leader Dominic Jeremiah says that many members have experienced the painful flu-like symptoms that come with chikungunya. “Just about every household in the community has had at least one or two people infected by the virus at various times.” Because mosquitoes can easily spread the virus from one person to the next, the branch has had to temporarily suspend its community meetings, along with men’s and women’s groups.
The branch in Kingston, Jamaica, appears to have escaped infection so far, although branch leader Locksley Robinson explains that it's difficult to tell who has contracted chikungunya. “This disease has struck Jamaica at the beginning of our rainy season, when colds and the flu are common anyway. The symptoms can be similar at points so it's hard to tell who has it and who doesn't. The main treatment is a pain reliever, Panadol, which is available over the counter, so most people treat themselves and it doesn't get reported.”
Chikungunya causes severe joint pain and fever, and typically involves muscle aches, headaches, joint swelling and rashes. There is no cure, and in some cases the disease can be fatal. According to a report in the Grenada Informer, a weekly newspaper, 87% of victims recover after two weeks but face the threat of severe arthritic pain resurfacing weeks later and lingering for years. Infants and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. The virus is spread by mosquitoes, not by direct human-to-human contact.
Dominic reports that, despite the virus, public and private establishments in Grenada like schools and offices are running mostly as normal. “Some of these places cannot function at optimal productivity levels because of the absence of workers,” he says, adding that many teachers and students at Presentation Brothers College, where he is principal, had to be sent home when they exhibited symptoms of the virus.
“The biggest lesson for us under these circumstances is to try to stay in touch with each other,” says Dominic. “We must ensure that the the elderly, the pregnant and little children receive special protection. At the same time we are trying to ensure that everyone is calm, hopeful and doing all that they need to do to be healed as quickly as possible. We are certainly learning how to be concerned for each other and how to care for each other.”
Locksley acknowledges that the epidemic might be still its early stages. “We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, we’ll be looking out for each other.”
Jim Bulger (Servant Branch), who regularly visits Grenada on behalf of the People of Praise branch relations council, has asked the whole community for prayer. Kevin Ranaghan, head of the council, adds, “We are investigating the situation to see how we might be able to help our brothers and sisters and their families in this medical emergency.”