A fellow-sufferer of the Chikungunya virus posted a comment on this blog yesterday on one of the three posts I had written previously. She’s an American who had picked up the virus while on vacation in Puerto Rico and she has been really suffering with it since, for 7 weeks now. (We corresponded further through email and she told me more about her frustrations with the virus.) She came across my blog, was relieved in reading she was not alone, and that the virus would eventually go away. Her doctor back home had not been able to help her at all, because he didn’t know what it was he was dealing with.
I’ve heard of many other tourists who have gone back home with this virus and cannot get any information about it, let alone relief from the symptoms, and are frustrated by the lack of warning they received from the countries in which they were vacationing. Canada did post a travel advisory warning Canadian visitors to the Caribbean that the virus was prevalent, but does anyone ever read those government-issued travel advisories and take heed when they’ve already paid for and are expecting to enjoy a relaxing holiday? Besides, being Canadian, how bothered can we be by mosquitoes? (That was my thinking the first night I ever stayed on Bequia, oh so long ago, and decided I didn’t need to sleep under a mosquito net. I’d spent much of my life at an Ontario cottage where we never used nets. The next morning on Bequia, though, after lathering on the Calamine lotion, I vowed I would never be so haughty about mosquitoes again!)
Those tourists I’ve mentioned above have said they’ll likely return to the Caribbean at some time, but not until they know the virus has been completely eradicated, because even though they cannot catch it again, they do not want their family members to suffer from it. I have also spoken with potential tourists who say they will change their travel plans due to the virus scare. But I have spoken with more peoople who plan to return to the region, regardless, knowing that they must be ever-more-vigilent about avoiding mosquito bites.
I believe the worst part of having this virus, though, is in not knowing what’s happening. One man told me he thought he was going to die from this – until he read my blog posts and realized he had been suffering from all the same symptoms I had, and since I was getting better, he knew he would eventually recover, as well. While he was on Bequia, NO ONE was talking about the virus – because they didn’t want to scare away the tourists. But I say that EVERYONE, tourists and Bequia people alike, were done a great disservice, because we did not receive necessary information, had no idea what to expect from this virus as it ran its course, and were not told of any possible relief available (even in the form of “bush medicine” or papaya leaf juice), because these weren’t medicinal. I think I might have been a lot less scared and angry had I known exactly what I could expect once I contracted the virus.
Isn’t it time for the Caribbean governments to stop worrying about what this virus will do to their tourism and begin warning and educating EVERYONE – tourists and citizens, about what it happening to them? There is so much misinformation among the populace that needs to be set straight. And since Dengue Fever is now about to become the next problem virus in the region, as it is every year at this time, we need to talk about it, as well. These viruses are a fact of life in the tropics, folks, and if you plan to travel to places like the Caribbean you should be fully aware of the risks. How frustrating, though, for those tourists, like my commenter, who come down with these viruses and have absolutely no idea whatsoever what is wrong with them or whether they will recover. A warning won’t necessarily stop them from contracting these viruses, but at least they will know what is happening and that it was caused by mosquitoes.
Maybe what all the health departments and governments in the affected areas should do is print up warnings and hand them out to every tourist as they arrive in each country – much the same as Banff National Park in Canada does with their warnings about Ursus horriblis or Grizzly Bears when you drive through the park gates. They can’t (and shouldn’t!) eradicate the Grizzlies from their natural habitat, but they can at least warn tourists as to how to avoid bears. And until the Caribbean can eradicate these virus-bearing mosquitoes, the least they can do is “inform” tourists as to how to avoid being bitten, as well as what the symptoms of these viruses are, and what to do if they notice those symptoms beginning to appear. Seems to me they’d be doing a greater service to everyone by informing rather than continually hiding the facts and hoping no one notices the truth.