Chikungunya is a viral illness spread by mosquitoes. The onset of the condition is marked by fever and severe joint pain. Usually, these and other symptoms present between two and seven days after a bite from an infected mosquito. While complications are rare, they can occur. For instance, some people experience residual joint pain for months. Death from this illness is uncommon but possible in rare instances. Most people recover completely. Treatment involves easing the severity of symptoms and preventing complications.
The main symptoms of chikungunya are joint pain and fever. Other common symptoms include fatigue and lethargy, headache, muscle aches, and rash. The joint pain can be severe, so treatments may aim to simply reduce pain. Most people bitten by a mosquito infected by the virus will experience symptoms of the illness. Sometimes these symptoms can be debilitating as the body works to eliminate the virus.
Individuals at Risk
Anyone bit by an infected mosquito may get chikungunya. However, after recovering from the condition, individuals are unlikely to suffer symptoms if they are bitten again. Some individuals, such as infants and people with compromised immune systems, face an increased risk of severe infections and debilitating symptoms.
Where Does Chikungunya Virus Occur?
The virus occurs in various places around the globe, including Africa, Asia, North America, South America, and Europe, as well as islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Caribbean Sea. Countries with past epidemics of chikungunya include Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Sudan, Philippines, Maldives, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Tanzania, Seychelles, Kenya, Guinea, and Vietnam. While there are reports of cases in the Americas and Europe, outbreaks do not reach epidemic proportions.
How is the Virus Transmitted?
Mosquitoes contract the chikungunya virus after biting an infected person. The insects then transmit the virus by biting other people. Also, rarely, a mother can infect her newborn at the time of birth. Medical researchers theorize that blood transfusions could transmit the virus, but no proven cases exist to support this theory.
Can an Infected Person Spread Chikungunya?
It’s important for individuals who have the chikungunya virus to cover up when outside and avoid getting bitten by other mosquitoes and thus transmitting the infection. If mosquitoes bite them, the insects are likely to become infected with the virus and passit along. This is invariably how serious outbreaks occur. Otherwise, an individual will not directly infect other people with the virus.
The symptoms of the chikungunya virus are similar to other mosquito-borne illnesses like zika virus and dengue fever. The same mosquitoes that transmit those diseases also transmit chikungunya. If individuals travel to areas where the virus is present, healthcare providers might suspect this illness when individuals develop any related symptoms upon their return. Doctors are likely to order blood tests that can pinpoint the condition, allowing them to make an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment of Chikungunya
There is currently no vaccine for the chikungunya virus. Healthcare providers will prescribe treatments or medications designed to alleviate the symptoms of fever and joint pain. Healthcare providers will also advise patients to drink plenty of fluids and to get lots of rest while the virus runs its course. To date, there are no effective antiviral treatments, so therapy is dedicated to the alleviation of the most severe symptoms and preventing complications.
Complications of the Virus
Most people infected by the chikungunya virus recover with no lingering issues. Occasionally, the virus can lead to serious complications or even death. Documented conditions associated with severe cases include seizures, neurological problems and diseases like meningoencephalitis, inflammation of the heart, jaundice, acute renal failure, and the appearance of bulbous lesions.
How Long Does it Take for the Virus to Run its Course?
People infected by the chikungunya virus usually start to feel better within a week. However, symptoms such as joint pain and muscle pain may linger for several weeks or, rarely, months. Typically, the virus will run in its course in a week and upon recovery be eradicated from the individual’s bloodstream. After a week, a person is no longer likely to infect mosquitoes should they bite.
While there is no cure for chikungunya, preventative measures can reduce one’s risk of contracting the virus. People traveling to areas where the virus is common should take care to avoid mosquitoes. Try not to spend time outdoors in the early morning or at dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Wearing mosquito repellent and long sleeves will also cut down the risk of contracting the illness.