Amidst the headlines of the Zika virus spreading in Brazil, other infectious diseases have received little attention. This holds true also for Chikungunya – a mosquito born virus that few have even heard of. But in fact, the virus has much in common with Zika.

What is Chikungunya? 

Chikungunya (Makonde for “that which bends up”) is an infection caused by the Chikungunya virus. It causes an illness with an acute febrile phase lasting 2 to 5 days, followed by a longer period of joint pain in the extremities. The disease is transmitted to humans by the Aedes mosquitoes, the same mosquito that transmits both dengue and zika virus. The similarities between Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue don’t stop there – in fact the symptoms of all three diseases are so similar that misdiagnosis often occurs, and you might need a laboratory test to be be absolutely sure which disease you actually have. 

There has been an outbreak of Chikungunya in North and South America and the Caribbean since December 2013. So far, Chikungunya has been confirmed in over 40 countries and territories in the Americas. Before 2016 there were no confirmed cases of Chikungunya in Brazil, but they are currently increasing.

Cases have been identified in Rio de Janeiro among other places. So far, the outbreak is not classified as an epidemic in Brazil but it has the potential of increasing in scope. However during the cooler winter months in Brazil (May- September), the mosquito population usually decreases, lowering the risk of infection.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of chikungunya are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, nausea, fatigue and rashes. The incubation period of chikungunya disease ranges from 2 to 12 days, but is typically 2 to 3 days.

The majority of those infected will develop symptoms. Most recover completely from the infection, but joint pain can in some cases persist for several months, and even years.

In rare cases complications can occur, such as eye, neurological and heart complications, as well as acute myositis. Complications like these can eventually be a cause of death, particularly in older patients.

The symptoms are similar to both Dengue and Zika, which are also transmitted through Aedes mosquitoes. Misdiagnosis therefore sometimes occurs.

The mosquito that carries chikungunya virus bites primarily during the daytime, both indoors and outdoors, and often lives around buildings in urban areas. Aedes mosquitoes are present in virtually all of Brazil, however usually not above altitudes of 4,500 feet (1,500 meters).

How can you avoid Chikungunya fever?

The only way to prevent chikungunya is to avoid mosquito bites. Preventing bites can be difficult, but it is important as you can get sick after just one bite. People can prevent mosquito bites by wearing clothing that fully covers their skin, using mosquito netting while resting, and/or through the application of insect repellent (DEET being the most effective).

Vaccine?

There is no vaccine or medicine to prevent chikungunya.

There has been an outbreak of Chikungunya in North and South America and the Caribbean since December 2013. So far, Chikungunya has been confirmed in over 40 countries and territories in the Americas.

Decrease the symptoms:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Take medicines such as ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen or paracetamol to relieve fever and pain.

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