Papua New Guinea now has confirmed cases of Chikungunya.
What the public is not aware is that the vector for the virus that causes chikungunya has always been here. It’s the aedes mosquito species. So PNG has always been a “high risk” country because of the presence of the vector, not because the disease was here. It’s the same argument that travel doctors give when advising clients who travel to countries with the dengue fever vector but the destination country is free of the infection itself.
So what does this mean?
If a country has the vector but no virus, once the virus is imported (by whatever means, usually by an infected person in the incubation period) the virus quickly spreads, causing pockets of outbreaks and the disease becomes endemic to that geographical location. That is the situation now with chikungunya in PNG.
After the virus was introduced, there were small pockets of outbreaks and now the disease is endemic because of the presence of the vector – aedes mosquito species.
It is very challenging to prevent vector borne diseases being introduced to a new geographical area with current status of global travel and business. However, knowing the risks and good travel health advice from a reputable travel clinic is one the ways of preventing crossing of infections across international borders.
So travellers to PNG, be warned, apart from malaria, we now have dengue and chikungunya. In my opinion these 3 will become the common causes of fever in PNG in the years to come.