Know Your Tropical Viruses

Know Your Tropical Viruses

When our family was thinking of travelling to the Caribbean, my husband refused to do so because of the tropical virus, chikungunya. At the time, my entire family harassed him about being so overly cautious – but looking back now, it may not have been such a bad mandate for our family. We once met a family from Canada working for the military, with one of them being a scientist working to prevent this virus. To my surprise, they agreed with my husband!

This all pushed me to come to the realization that it’s important to be aware of the various tropical viruses for anyone travelling to the Caribbean. That’s why today, I’ll discuss the rise of chikungunya as well as the atypical coxsackie virus.

Chikungunya

Background:

Chikungunya “had never infected anyone in the Western Hemisphere until December 20, 2013,” when it appeared in the Caribbean, says Stephen K. Tyring, M.D., Ph.D. Since then, thanks to international travel and the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries chikungunya, “This disease has spread extremely rapidly throughout the Caribbean and southern United States,” where it has already infected approximately 1 million people in total.

Symptoms:

  • First week:
    • Fever
    • Muscle and joint aches
  • Second week onwards:
    • Joint pain can last from weeks to (rarely) years

Skin signs:

  • White patches amongst red rashes, similar to dengue

Treatment:

  • Anti-inflammatory agents
  • Pain medications
  • Hydration

Atypical coxsackie virus

Background:

In the last two years, dermatologists in the U.S. have been noticing an increase with hand, foot and mouth (HFM) disease caused by the Coxsackievirus A6 (CVA6), which seems to make adults sicker than children.

Symptoms:

  • Feeling ill frequently
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever

Skin signs:

  • Blisters on palms, soles, mouth and elsewhere
  • Hemorrhagic and blistering lesions in kids

Treatment:

  • Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for this virus. However, what’s unique about the adults seen over the past two years with HFM disease is that when the signs and symptoms are improving, patients start shedding their toenails and fingernails.

These viruses are no joke, and I should have always taken my husband seriously – especially since there are so few effective treatment options for these viruses. Recently, one of my patients mentioned she was getting married in the Caribbean and she had no idea about chikungunya – and that’s how awareness starts. Now that she – and you – know, I hope you’ll take more precautions next time you book a holiday to soak up the sun! Stay safe.

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Dr Pena

About The Author

Dr. Pena is a Board-Certified Medical Dermatologist, Mohs skin cancer surgeon, and cosmetic dermatologist. Her mission is to educate the diverse patient populations she serves, and their communities, on the importance of skin care in decreasing the risk of skin cancer and minimizing the early signs of aging. She founded Skin Solutions Dermatology with numerous clinics in Nashville, Tennessee and surrounding Middle Tennessee.

Dr. Julia Pena, MD