SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The first known outbreak of the chikungunya virus in the Western Hemisphere has Caribbean governments working to prevent the disease from spreading and damaging the region’s tourism-dependent economies.

About 280 cases of chikungunya, which can cause severe joint pain, fever and headaches, have been reported since early December in Dutch and French St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Martinique, Guadeloupe, the British Virgin Islands and French Guyana. Officials from Venezuela to the Cayman Islands have warned of the potential for the mosquito-borne virus, first identified from a patient in Tanzania in 1953, to spread. There is no treatment and the illness is rarely fatal.

“The worst-case scenario would be that the impact would be significant and slow down the whole economy in the Caribbean,” James Hospedales, the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, said. “The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world so if it spreads like wildfire you could scare away tourists.”

Caribbean economies suffered in the aftermath of the global financial crisis as tourism declined and destinations including Jamaica and Grenada struggled under debt loads that exceeded 100 percent of gross domestic product. With economies in North America and Europe rebounding, regional leaders are counting on increased tourism to boost growth.

Radisson Hotels International’s Blu resort and spa on the French side of St. Martin is offering complimentary mosquito repellent in every room due to the outbreak, concierge Claudette Davis said. The island’s tourism board is working with authorities on the Dutch side, known as Sint Maarten, to ensure visitors are aware of the outbreak and how to avoid it from the moment they arrive, said director Silviane John.

While chikungunya is a recent arrival, the Caribbean and Central America have a bigger problem with dengue, which can be fatal and is transmitted by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito. About 79,000 cases of dengue were reported in the Caribbean last year, including 141 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The Dominican Republic accounted for 111 of those fatalities.