Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Health officials warns of further 'chikungunya' outbreaks

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Cirebon

Health officials have warned that further outbreaks of chikungunya were possible anywhere in Indonesia, with the mosquito-borne disease already having infected hundreds of people in several towns in West and Central Java.

The official said the spread of the disease could not be predicted or anticipated, unless the breeding grounds of its carrier were cleaned up.

"Basically, any region across the country where there are mosquitoes could have a chikungunya outbreak," Thomas Suroso, the director of the Animal Transmitted Diseases Eradication Unit at the Ministry of Health, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He said that unlike the generation of 20 years ago, which was immunized against chikungunya, the current generation was highly susceptible to the disease as it had not been immunized.

Thomas did not elaborate further.

He said chikungunya, carried by the Aedes albopictus mosquito, was relatively easy to eradicate using common pesticides.

Like the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries dengue fever, the Aedes albopictus is usually active during the day, Thomas said.

He explained that albopictus tends to breed both in suburban and rural areas, while aegypti is mostly found in densely populated urban areas.

However, Thomas said the government had taken precautionary measures to anticipate and prevent the further spread of the disease.

"Health officials are now going out to rural districts to warn villagers to get rid of the mosquitoes in their areas," Thomas explained.

Villagers had also been urged to drain or cover any water receptacle and to fill in holes that could be used by mosquitoes to breed, Thomas added.

Though chikungunya turns out not to be as mysterious as people first thought, there is as yet no cure and the disease can cripple its victims as it affects the muscles and joints.

The disease has infected more than 500 people in certain parts of Yogyakarta province and 250 others in the West Java capital of Bandung since last December, local officials said.

It spread last week to Cirebon, West Java, where more than 70 people have been affected since mid-January.

However, a local senior health official, Sri Budiartiningsih, said on Thursday that her agency had recorded at least 94 cases of chikungunya in Cirebon, adding that the disease was first detected in Bojor Lor village in Klangenan subdistrict and spread to the adjacent villages of Bojong Wetan and Kreyo.

She said the number of victims would likely rise as other infected villagers had yet to seek assistance from local health agencies.

Last year, the disease also hit the West Java town of Bekasi and the Central Java towns of Purworejo and Klaten.

Chikungunya has apparently also spread to Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, according to Antara on Friday.

Local health officials, however, were unable to confirm the presence of the disease despite the fact that some people there were suffering from continuous fevers, and severe muscle and joint pains.