SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rican Health Department said Thursday that it is investigating whether two people who died had contracted Chikungunya, which – if true – would be the first two fatalities linked to that virus on the island.
“We’re performing the appropriate tests to determine if they had Chikungunya,” Health Department epidemiologist Dr. Brenda Rivera Garcia told Efe.
She said she could not provide details regarding the identities of the patients or their respective health situations before possibly being infected “out of respect for their relatives, who must be the first to be informed.”
But she confirmed that both patients were adults between the ages of 20 and 59.
Rivera said that the test results from the samples sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta will be available “in the coming weeks.”
If the presence of Chikungunya is detected, the Health Department will try to “understand what role this infection played in their deaths,” she said.
“It’s one thing if they had the virus at the time of their deaths and a very different thing if the virus was the cause of the deaths,” Rivera said.
If the deaths are confirmed to be directly linked to the virus, these would be the first fatalities in Puerto Rico, although there have been 32 deaths registered elsewhere in the Caribbean since last December resulting from the virus, which has never surfaced before in the Americas.
“Mortality linked to this virus is very rare. It only occurs in very atypical cases, normally in the elderly or in newborns,” she said.
“We will have to get used to the fact that Chikungunya may be in the region, just like dengue,” Rivera said.
The first cases of Chikungunya were detected in Puerto Rico in May, and on July 16 the Health Department declared that an epidemic was under way.
Since then, 4,079 possible cases have been noted, of which just 1,207 have been confirmed by CDC laboratories, which have a backlog in carrying out the relevant tests.
Chikungunya’s symptoms include acute fever, followed by a longer period of joint pains in the extremities which may persist for years in some cases. The disease is transmitted to humans by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes like dengue fever and while no specific treatment is known, medications can be used to reduce symptoms.