Larvae of the mosquitoes Blacktip Island health officials say carry the tropical fever sweeping the small Caribbean island. (photo courtesy of James Gathany, CDC)
An unseasonal outbreak of Blacktip ague this week has Blacktip Island public health officials concerned about the population’s collective health as flu season approaches.
“Blacktip ague pops up every few years, usually mid-July when mosquitoes are thickest,” Public Health Department spokesperson Dr. Alexandrine Poesy said. “We were ready with vaccines for it then, but those meds have a short shelf life. We don’t stock them year round. And some people just refuse to be vaccinated.
“While the ague’s not immediately life threatening, the big concern is this outbreak may weaken islanders’ immune systems and make them more susceptible to influenza,” Poesy said. “That, and its annoying symptoms. This could be a real double whammy for us.”
Blacktip ague’s symptoms include fever, flamboyant gestures and use of iambic hexameter, Poesy said. In extreme cases, victims speak in rhyming couplets.
The disease is believed to have been introduced to the island by European explorers in the mid-1600s.
“DNA research says about four centuries ago a Blacktip Island mosquito bit a Frenchman,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Ague victims have been talking in those damn six-beat sentences ever since.
“Any other fever, people stick to normal pentameter, like proper Brits and Americans,” Altschul said. “It’s aggravating. And that doesn’t even address the rhyming nonsense.”
Local dive operators say the outbreak has already affected their businesses.
“Our whole dive staff’s got it,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “Guests laugh at first, hearing a villanelle for a dive briefing and seeing the divemasters in Speedos and red knit caps. But after the first morning, people just want to go diving.
“I mean, today when Lee spouted out, ‘Be gentle with the morays that lurk on this site / They’ll take a pound of flesh if your wetsuit’s too tight’ in that Jacques Cousteau accent, divers were knocking each other down and jumping overboard,” Latner said. ‘It’s creepy.”
Health professionals, meanwhile, are urging aggressive treatment.
“With this fever, the urge is to drink wine, but that just makes it worse,” said Poesy said. “The only effective treatment once the rhyming hits is tequila. Administered externally. Shower in it. Soak in it. Now’s not the time to skimp.”
Many locals, though, have put their trust in home remedies.
“Mama’s whelk-stew enema’s the best for what plagues you,” said island handyman Dermott Bottoms. “Stops all your rhyming and blows out your damn ague.”