- CHIKV is a virus mosquitoes can transmit.
- Chikungunya symptoms commonly include joint aches and pain that can be severe and debilitating.
- If you get chikungunya once, you most likely won’t get it again.
Chikungunya is a virus that mosquitoes transmit. Also known as CHIKV, the virus was first detected in 1952 in southern Tanzania. The name means “to become contorted” in the Kimakonde language. This name refers to the stooped appearance people get when they have this virus. This occurs due to joint pain.
The condition primarily occurred in Africa, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent for several decades and spread to northeastern Italy in 2007, according to the World Health Organization. It has since been diagnosed in the Americas, in the Caribbean, in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and elsewhere in Europe.
From 2006 to 2009, an estimated 106 chikungunya cases were diagnosed in the United States, in people who had contracted the virus while traveling, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). These cases didn’t lead to an epidemic.
Chikungunya usually doesn’t cause death, but the symptoms can be severe and debilitating. The most common symptoms are joint aches and pains. The disease can also cause:
- a fever
- a headache
- muscle pain
- a rash
Symptoms normally begin after three to seven days, but they can take up to 12 days to appear. Most people recover from it, but the symptoms may last for weeks, months, or years for some people.
The symptoms can be similar to the symptoms of dengue fever and Zika, which makes diagnosing it difficult. Chikungunya symptoms differ from those of dengue fever because the pain is more intense and more concentrated in the joints. This joint pain can last for years after primary chikungunya symptoms have largely passed. If you get chikungunya once, you most likely won’t get it again.
These people have a higher risk of getting the disease:
- older adults
- children under the age of 1
- pregnant women
- people with preexisting diseases
If someone in one of these groups begins to show symptoms of chikungunya, get them to a hospital or medical facility immediately.
Although there are no cases of mothers who are exposed to chikungunya during pregnancy passing it onto their babies, there are documented cases of mothers passing it onto their babies who have a fever related to chikungunya immediately before or during delivery, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
Two mosquito species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are carriers of the chikungunya virus. These mosquito types are most common in the southeastern United States and tend to bite people in the daytime. A mosquito can transmit the virus by biting a person. The virus then multiplies rapidly in the blood.
Mosquitoes also transmit viruses such as dengue and West Nile. The chikungunya virus is more likely to infect a person than other mosquito-transmitted viruses. After a bite by a carrier mosquito, 72 to 97 percent of people will experience symptoms, according to CIDRAP.
Doctors diagnose chikungunya based on symptoms. Your doctor will perform a physical exam. A blood test can also reveal above average amounts of antibodies, which can indicate the presence of a virus.
A cure for chikungunya isn’t available.
As with the flu and other similar viruses, treatment focuses on keeping you as comfortable as possible and reducing your pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and other over-the-counter medications that don’t contain aspirin, are usually recommended. Your doctor may prescribe pain medication if the pain is severe.
Currently, no vaccine is available to protect against the chikungunya virus. Prevention involves reducing the risk of getting bitten by a mosquito. Follow these tips to avoid mosquito bites:
- Avoid collections of standing water, such as stagnant ponds, and even flowerpots that have collected rain.
- Use screens, windows, and doors to keep mosquitoes out of the house, and sleep with a mosquito net over your bed to prevent mosquitoes from biting you while you sleep.
- Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts when you’re outside.
- Apply insect repellants that contain deet, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol, to protect against mosquitoes
- Treat your clothes with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated clothes to protect against mosquito bites.
- Avoid spending a lot of time outdoors during the day in areas where chikungunya is prevalent. Mosquitoes tend to bite in the daytime.
On a larger scale, prevention aims to reduce the number of water-filled habitats that can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes. During an outbreak, people may use insecticides to kill mosquito populations.
Chikungunya isn’t curable. It’s important to take these precautions when traveling to areas of the world where chikungunya is prevalent. If you do become sick after traveling, seek medical care immediately and tell your doctor about your previous travels.