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'Major epidemic' of mosquito-born chikungunya hits French West Indies

media Chikungunya is carried by mosquitos.

A major epidemic of the mosquito-born chikungunya virus has led to 33 deaths and 1,000 people being hospitalised in the French West Indies, Health Minister Marisol Touraine warned on Thursday.

With 5,000 new cases a week the disease has affected about 100,000 people and resulted in 1,000 people being sent to hospital on the French-run islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Touraine said she was going to the region next week to deal with the "major public health issue".

The mosquito-born chikungunya virus has been spreading through the Caribbean and central America.

“In fact at the beginning we didn’t have many recorded cases but today we have reached about 5,000 people per week,” local health official Patrick Saint Martin told RFI. “The number of actions has been increased to deal with that higher number of cases. Every means of fighting it must be deployed, including resorting to reinforcements from national level to help tackle mosquito nests at heights.”

The virus, which is rarely fatal but nevertheless serious, sparks high fevers and severe joint aches, as well as headaches, nausea and extreme fatigue.

It has been the indirect cause of the deaths of 33 elderly people, according to Touraine.

" I have been working on the subject since the beginning of the year and I’m going to the Caribbean next week to support medical teams and firefighters," the minister told BFMTV. "More emergency workers are also being sent by the interior ministry to assist in the fight against mosquitoes. This disease makes people feel very tired and that’s very taxing. Therefore all of us need to me mobilised."

About 400,000 people visit the French West Indies from mainland France during the summer holidays, most of them being people who originally came from there.

The authorities fear that some of them may return infected by the virus, especially since the tiger mosquito, that carries it, is spreading here.

Since May 47 cases of chikungunya and 15 of dengue have been reported in mainland France, most of them in people who have visited the West Indies.

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