The following is a personal account of recent volunteer, Jackie Brooks, on her July trip to Haiti amidst the presence of Chikungunya Fever:
When I got the email from Midwives For Haiti about the risk of Chik-V, I read all the information from CDC and WHO. My family was concerned about my getting Chik-V (particularly my mother), since I have arthritis (Chik-V is usually worse in those with preexisting arthritis). I read some blogs from people who got Chik-V in various countries. I struggled with whether or not I was going to go. I prayed and talked with family and friends.
One morning, I woke up thinking about a high school friend who had just returned from a mission trip to Haiti with a youth group. I emailed him, and he said none of their group of 30 got it. The following morning, I woke up knowing what I was going to do: I was going to Haiti. It wasn’t that I felt indispensable, because I’m not. It was more the fact that there were necessary supplies needed in Haiti. I also felt I was going to be fine and needed to go.
Once I knew I was going, I made sure I took every effort to protect myself from mosquitoes. I decided to take enough scrubs to cover the days I would be there, so I would have something long to wear. I treated most of my clothes with Permethrin and packed them in plastic bags. I bought five bottles of deep woods Off, as well as Off towelettes that I could keep in my carry on.
I headed to Haiti as scheduled on July 18th, loaded down with lots of donated supplies and a generator part that piqued the interest of TSA. And, all that DEET.
When I arrived in PAP, I went directly to the bathroom and applied bug repellent via the towelettes. I stayed in PAP that night at the Heartline Guesthouse. It took me about 20 minutes in the PAP heat to decide there was no way I was going to wear the long clothes! I changed into capris and a t-shirt and sprayed myself with Off. One of the volunteers at the Guesthouse, a young man in his early 20s, had been in PAP for 4 weeks and did not use bug spray at all! He had not gotten Chik-V at that point. I had to stop myself from going Mommy on him…
I slathered myself liberally with the Off several times that day and just before I went to bed. I slept under a mosquito net with a fan blowing on me. The Chik-V mosquitoes bite during the day, but I wasn’t taking chances. I took Off to the bathroom when I showered, and sprayed the drain and screens before I turned it on. I sprayed myself as soon as I dried off and sprayed again when I got dressed so I could get all the cuffs.
The other volunteer that traveled with me the next day from PAP to Hinche, Kel, was just as diligent with the bug spray as me. I think every Haitian we met had had Chik-V. Even young people were massaging their wrists and complaining about pain. Kel and I decided not to be embarrassed by the amount of spray we used or how often we applied it! She used Picaridin while I continued to use Off several times daily and at bedtime.
We talked with Emily and Rebecca at the MFH house. They had both had it, Emily a mild case and Rebecca a more serious case with relapses. They talked to us about avoiding mosquitoes when they were most active, during sunrise and sunset, and using the bug spray and fans.
We did not actually see many mosquitoes. They were most active at sunrise and sunset, as we were told. We saw the most when we were in Hinche at a continuing education session for the Matròns, which was absolutely fabulous. We passed our towelettes back and forth throughout the session.
All in all, I do not think I was bit at all. I was so hyper-vigilant, I think I identified any redness or itchiness as a mosquito bite. But, I came back to Georgia whelp free. I thought I would leave my extra Off with MFH, but I used the final spray of the fifth bottle as I got out of the Land Rover at the PAP airport! (Oh, if you have the chance, go to the artisan shops on your way to the airport!)
It has been 2+ weeks since I returned home, so I am past the incubation period. I am Chik-V free! And, free of any other illnesses that could be attributed to my trip to Haiti.
This was my second time in Haiti, and it was more productive than my first earlier this year. I think it was because I knew what to expect and knew the house staff and many of the midwives. It was a fabulous experience! MFH is doing such wonderful work to improve the lives of women and children in Haiti. I was so impressed at how much progress they have made just in the 4 months since my first trip! MFH is truly creating a cadre of Haitian SBAs who are training more Haitian SBAs and expanding access to healthcare in many parts of the country. The program is changing lives! I know how fortunate I am to be even a small part of their efforts.
I know it is scary, considering what Chik-V is and how devastating it is to so many. I think if you take the proper precautions, you will be just fine! And, you will have the experience of your life!
-Jackie Brooks, MS, CNM, WHNP