Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Doctors in France have detected a mosquito-borne disease among people returning from the Indian Ocean region, where the virus is spreading rapidly


France's health minister has blamed "Chikungunya" fever, for which there is no known cure or vaccine, for directly or indirectly killing 77 people on the French island of La Reunion off the southeast coast of Africa.

French health officials say 157,000 people have now been infected by the disease on La Reunion, about one in five of the population.

"We have people returning from La Reunion who have symptoms of chikungunya and their diagnoses have been confirmed," Francois Bricaire, head of the infectious diseases service at Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris, told Europe 1 radio.

"It's not surprising, quite simply because of the contacts between the island of La Reunion and mainland France."

He said about 30 cases had been found by his service and it was likely that other medical services had detected cases. The disease can only spread via mosquitoes and Bricaire did not say whether the people with symptoms were confined or allowed home.

Health Minister Xavier Bertrand told Europe 1 that the mosquito, which carries the virus, could be present in southeastern France but gave no details.

The illness, which has also been found in the nearby Indian Ocean islands of the Seychelles and Mauritius, is marked by high fever and severe rashes. Most people recover although it is extremely painful.

The number of people infected in Mauritius has risen to 962 from 341 the previous week, the Mauritius government said.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is due to travel to La Reunion on Sunday. He faces growing criticism over the failure to prevent the disease spreading and said this week that the entire island should be cleared of mosquitoes.

The spread of chikungunya is likely to increase health concerns in France following confirmation of the presence of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu at a farm in the east of the country where thousands of turkeys died.

First recognized in East Africa in 1952, chikungunya leaves the immune system weak, proving opportunities for other diseases to set in. The name comes from the Swahili for stooped walk, referring to the posture of those afflicted.

La Reunion is a popular tourist destination for European travelers. The Reunion Committee on Tourism has reported tour cancellations but has not provided figures for costs incurred.

French pledge for disease island


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