Today, Caribbean medical schools hold an increasingly important position in the global battle against several deadly tropical diseases. Increasing international travel has resulted in the spread of some contagious diseases from hot climates into more temperate zones. As efforts continue to combat illnesses, the possibility exists that many schools of medicine in the Caribbean will play a prominent part in helping researchers evaluate new vaccines. Just consider a few of the pathogens that these institutions might help control and treat:
1. Zika Virus
Recently, the Zika virus has gained headlines because of its rapid spread across many parts of the world. Once limited to rare outbreaks in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, today this disease has begun spreading widely. It potentially causes the birth defect of a very small head in the baby of a pregnant woman who contracts the disease, and sometimes produces neurological symptoms.
2. Dengue Fever
Dengue Fever, a potentially lethal disease spread by the bites of mosquitoes, has become a serious problem in many parts of the Caribbean and Gulf Coast. Canadians who visit these regions need to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, since effective vaccines for the illness do not exist at this time.
3. West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus spread from Africa to the Western Hemisphere around 1999, and the disease has infected humans, horses and birds in many parts of the Caribbean and North America since that date. Biting mosquitoes spread this ailment, which resembles mild influenza in most patients, but can prove fatal in a small number of people who develop meningitis of encephalitis.
The World Health Organization has worked closely with university researchers to reduce the problem of malaria, an infectious febrile disease spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Although efforts to reduce the spread of the disease, which include disseminating mosquito netting, have resulted in a considerable reduction in cases, this illness still exacts a heavy toll every year globally. Efforts to eradicate the disease from some Caribbean Islands have met with considerable success.
Mosquitoes carry chikungunya and transmit this disease after they consume blood from infected humans. The illness closely resembles West Nile Virus. Until a few years ago, Chikungunya occurred mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the Philippine Islands and India. However, in December, 2013 this virus spread on the Caribbean Island of Saint Martin, and from there it rapidly migrated throughout the Caribbean region and into the United States. Although Canada has not yet reported any cases, chikungunya has infected patients in Alaska. The single-stranded RNA-virus causes acute fever and painful joints. Most infections clear up within a week, although cases of severe illness have occurred in the very young, the elderly and patients with other preexisting disease conditions.
Caribbean schools of medicine associated with teaching hospitals provide education to students seeking to identify and treat these emerging tropical diseases. They may perform a global service by training researchers