What is chikungunya?
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.
What are the symptoms of chikungunya?
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.
What causes chikungunya?
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.
How is chikungunya diagnosed?
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
How is chikungunya treated?
A cure for chikungunya isn’t
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
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
- Apply insect repellants that contain deet,
picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol, to protect
- 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
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.