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Rare Viral Disease Outbreak Spreads in the Caribbean

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This week, the Center for Disease Control reissued its Travel Watch to St. Martin, urging US citizens to take precautions against mosquitos in the Caribbean, responding to a viral disease currently spreading in several islands.

As of January 2nd, 122 cases of chikungunya have been confirmed in St. Martin (98 cases), St. Maarten (1), Martinique (13), Guadeloupe (3), and St. Bart's (7). According to the CDC, chikungunya's symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, and muscle and joint pains. Though rarely fatal, infected individuals can suffer from joint pain for months after the initial sickness.

The outbreak comes during the Caribbean tourism industry's high season, when millions of Americans descend upon the region to escape the cold. And with temperatures reaching historic lows across much of the United States, a beach vacation seems extra enticing, putting more Americans at risk.

These cases represent the first time in the Americas that the disease has been spread through local transmission—from native mosquitos—raising concerns that it may soon spread to other islands, and possibly the mainland as well.

The CDC recommends taking the usual steps to minimize risks from mosquitos, such as keeping the amount of exposed skin to a minimum, using insect repellent with DEET, and reapplying the repellent frequently. For more details, visit the CDC's site on Chikungunya in the Caribbean. You can also get up-to-the-minute updates from the department's Twitter handle.

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure, and a member of the Trip Doctor news team. You can follow him on Twitter at @pschles08.

Photo credit: Patrick Pleul/dpa/Corbis

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