Health officials move to protect borders against a new virus

Health officials are putting the country on alert over the chikungunya virus spreading through the Caribbean and now Panamá. Similar to dengue, the virus is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This disease leads to severe pains and fevers but is almost never fatal.

The Ministerio de Salud’s health surveillance director, María Ethel Tejos, said San José, Guácimo, and Sarapiquí are the areas where the virus has the highest probability to surface. She confirmed that no cases have yet been reported in Costa Rica.

Ms. Tejos has stressed higher awareness levels at the borders, so the disease does not enter via foreign travelers who may be infected. She said border authorities should know what the disease looks like so they can get any potential carriers away from the public and into medical care.

“One of the important things is to coordinate with the nation’s entrance points by air, sea, and land to provide clear information over the symptoms of this disease,” she said. “This way we can get anyone entering the country who may have symptoms to be immediately transferred to health services for early containment.”

A regional health organization has confirmed thousands of cases in Haiti, Cuba, Saint Martin, and the Dominican Republic since December.  Ms. Tejos singled out the Dominican Republic as having serious problems in containing the threat because of medical centers’ failure to quickly stamp out the disease. A few recent cases have also been reported within neighboring Panamá as the country’s health department has issued a prevention alert status.

Though some people are immune to chikungunya, most who receive the virus will be presented with a range of possible symptoms, including a high fever, joint pains, nausea, headaches, and insomnia.

Ms. Tejos said the health ministry and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social will focus combative efforts on mosquito-friendly havens like places that accumulate standing water. During the rainy season these sources are especially vulnerable to attracting the Aedes aegypti. Ms. Tejos pointed to tires, buckets, animal feeders, and gutters as objects that are usually looked at for fumigation.

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