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Mosquito Files: Know the Facts about Chikungunya

by Karen Rollins May 22, 2023

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A female mosquito

Chikungunya is a tropical virus spread by the bites of infected female mosquitoes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) over two million cases of chikungunya have been reported since 2005 and the disease has now been identified in over 110 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

What is chikungunya?

The WHO states that chikungunya is “a mosquito-borne viral disease that causes fever and severe joint pain. The disease was first recognised in 1952 during an outbreak in southern Tanzania.”

The name “chikungunya” derives from a word in the Kimakonde language of southern Tanzania, meaning “to become contorted or bent over in pain”, and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers. 

Chikungunya is transmitted to humans by two mosquitoes – Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. These two species can also transmit other mosquito-borne viruses, including dengue. They usually bite during the day, although peak activity can occur in the early morning and late afternoon. 

What are the symptoms of chikungunya?

The symptoms of chikungunya appear between four and seven days after the patient has been infected. Most symptoms generally last for around three days. Chikungunya is rarely fatal. 

The disease begins with an abrupt onset of fever, which is usually accompanied by joint pain. The joint pain is often debilitating and typically lasts for a few days to a few weeks.  

Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Red Eyes.
  • Rash. 

Most patients fully recover, but in some cases joint pain may persist for several months or even years. Occasional cases of eye, nervous system, and heart complications have been reported, as well as gastrointestinal complaints. 

Serious complications are not common, but the disease is harder on newborns, people over 65, and anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.

How is chikungunya treated?

There is no specific treatment for chikungunya and there is no commercial chikungunya vaccine, however, several vaccines are under development.

Treatment is directed primarily at relieving the symptoms of the illness. Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should not be administered until dengue can be ruled out.  

If you think you may have been infected with chikungunya, you should rest and drink plenty of fluids. See your doctor as quickly as possible. If you start to feel worse, go to a hospital immediately.

How can I avoid getting chikungunya?

Prevention and control of chikungunya outbreaks rely heavily on reducing the mosquito population. Take measures to control mosquitoes breeding around your home by cutting down vegetation and bush and removing stagnant water.

To avoid being bitten, apply an effective mosquito repellent and, whenever possible, wear long sleeved tops and long trousers.

Sources: World Health OrganizationWebMD, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.