Opinion: Chikungunya

POSTED: 03/7/14 12:20 AM

The question whether chikungunya is life threatening or just another inconvenience has become the topic of heated debate after this newspaper published an article from Jeff Berger’s electronic newsletter St. Maarten Weekly News last week. Berger warned that the government did not do enough to counter misleading reports in American and Canadian media and that this would result in tens of thousands of tourists to stay away from the island this month.
Chikungunya is not life threatening at all, Berger wrote, criticizing a text message social insurance agency SZV broadcasted.
In the meantime, we have spoken with residents who caught the virus and we got the definite impression that having to put up with chikungunya is no pleasure cruise.
But then, the flu does not make anyone feel great either, let alone dengue. We certainly do not want to downplay the effect chikungunya could have on someone’s wellbeing, but we also do not want to contribute to unwarranted feelings of panic.
From the medical field we received pertinent information that the way the government is handling the situation is, to put it mildly, way over the top.
From frontline medical professionals we hear that laboratory tests for chikungunya are basically useless and almost prohibitively expensive. This is because general practitioners are quite capable to determine whether a patient has caught the virus.
Lab tests could cost as much as $1,000 up to $2,000 a pop. For that money, you get a result a GP could have provided for free: you have chikungunya. Or you don’t.
The French side of the island is doing a lot of these tests and, according to our sources, maybe 30 percent comes back negative – confirming that these cases are indeed chikungunya-infections.
At least some doctors on the Dutch side consider these lab tests a big waste of money. Apparently, the department of Collective Preventive Services has asked GPs to submit blood from patients whom they suspect to have the virus for a lab test.

The reason?
They need statistics to show that they are doing something, one doctor scoffs, adding, “What a nonsense. If the test comes back negative, they are able to say: yes, this patient has chikungunya. If it comes back positive, what do they have? Statistics. Come on, who is paying for these tests? You and me, the taxpayer.”
Doctors also say that chikungunya is “just a virus.” There are more people catching the flu every year than people catching chikungunya.
Knowing all this, it seems to be time to put all this in its true and realistic perspective.
Dr. Asin-Oostburg, the head of Collective  Preventive Services said a few weeks ago that chikungunya-patients could be stuck with joint pain for the rest of their lives. One doctor told us this is nonsense.
Of course, someone could die of chikungunya. But people also die from the common flu, from dengue, malaria and a truckload of other infections.  As the saying goes (excuse our French), shit happens.
And then there is this to consider. At the chikungunya press conference, the authorities announced that in the fight against the virus all car wrecks would be removed and shredded on short notice. Cadets of the Justice Academy were sent into the field to assess the situation in the districts. We saw these men and women in teams of two with their clipboards in Sucker Garden the days after the press conference. It must have been impossible for them to miss the huge collection of broken washing machines at one location. They practically flow over onto the public road and boy, do those appliances hold water. But last time we looked, those washing machines were still there. Time for neighborhood residents to sound the alarm.
Or maybe it is time, with all respect for citizens that have caught the virus, to tone down this panic-stricken hysteria.

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