Chikungunya is a disease caused by mosquitoes. It is mostly prevalent in the Asian and African countries. However, incidences of this mosquito-borne disease have been found in some parts of Europe and America. The name “chikungunya” originates from Kimakonde language spoken by an ethnic group in in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique. Meaning ‘contortion’, this word refers to the stooped posture of people experiencing severe joint or muscle pain. This is one of the major manifestations of chikungunya.
What is Chikungunya?
This is a virus that you catch from the bite of infected female mosquitoes: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. The transmission of chikungunya generally occurs outdoors during the day, especially in the early morning and late afternoon hours, when these mosquitoes are most active. This viral infection is characterised by an abrupt onset of fever accompanied by severe muscle and joint pain. Other symptoms could be headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.
The onset of chikungunya occurs within 3-7 days of a mosquito bite. Though the condition mostly resolves on its own, this infection can be fatal for the elderly population and people with comorbid conditions. There is currently no cure or vaccine for the condition. The treatment is aimed at relief from symptoms like pain, swelling and fever.
The signs and symptoms of Chikungunya may last for 10-12 days and subside on their own. Apart from fever and debilitating joint pain, there are other manifestations of chikungunya too. Here are some of them:
- Vomiting (within approximately two to 22 days of infection, in some cases)
- Tender lymph nodes
The symptoms of chikungunya may often be mistaken for other mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue. However, they affect the body differently and the differences are subtle. One of them is the type and frequency of fever a patient experiences. In the case of dengue a patient suffers from high fever that appears and subsides quickly only to reappear with rashes. In case of dengue haemorrhagic fever, bleeding could be another associated symptom. Malaria patients, on the other hand, suffer from high fever which is most predominant in the evenings. It is followed by chills and sweating in quick succession. In case of chikungunya, the patient experiences high fever with severe pain in the body especially the joints along with all the symptoms mentioned above. In all three conditions, the patient will experience a temperature of about 102 o F .
What Causes Chikungunya?
Dr Amitabh Parti, Director, Internal Medicine, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, says, “Chikungunya is caused due to a viral infection (CHIKV) and is transmitted when an infected mosquito carries the virus from an infected human to a healthy person. They are commonly seen breeding around clean water bodies and mostly attack during the day.” Poor sanitation, coming in contact with an infected person, living in or travelling to places with high infestation of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, a weak immune system and having stagnant water in and around your home will increase the risk of chikungunya. People above 65, newborns and those living with high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease are more at risk of developing the condition.
Diagnosis of Chikungunya
Most doctors do tend to diagnose the condition using a process of elimination, by testing for dengue and malaria first, followed by tests for chikungunya. A simple blood test known as CHIKV test helps in the diagnosis of this mosquito-borne disease. You may also need other blood tests like ELISA (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays) for the presence of antibodies that fight chikungunya: Immunoglobulin M and Immunoglobulin G. Your doctor will also recommend another bloodwork known as (RT)-PCR assay to detect the CHIKV RNA. This needs to be done within 1 week of catching the infection.
Treatment of Chikungunya
As already mentioned, there is no treatment specific treatment for chikungunya as it is a viral infection. Additionally, there is no vaccine to safeguard against this mosquito-borne disease. In most cases, people recover within a week. However, the joint pain may persist for months. Drugs to reduce the pain, swelling and fever that come with the disease are usually prescribed by the doctor as the first line of treatment. You also should drink plenty of liquids and get a lot of rest.
Some foods alongside the prescribed medicines can help you in the fast recovery of this condition. Add them to your meals as battle chikungunya.
Fluids: While suffering from a viral infection like chikungunya, you may end up losing a lot of fluids from the body. So, you need to drink a lot of water and other liquids to replenish them. Include homemade soups, barley water, buttermilk/curd, lemon water and tender coconut water in your meals.
Vitamin C-rich fruits: They help your immune cells function better and fight any infection including chikungunya. Oranges, guavas and lemons among others can be good options.
Vegetables: Loaded with essential nutrients, they help you in the process of digestion while your gastrointestinal tract isn’t able to perform at its best during an infection. Green leafy vegetables also help you ease the symptoms of chikungunya.
Prevention of Chikungunya
You can take a few steps to prevent and reduce your risk of chikungunya infection:
- Since infected mosquitoes, bite during the day, it is advisable to use a mosquito repellent cream while stepping out, especially in endemic areas. Read package instructions while using them.
- Keep all water reservoirs like buckets, small tubs, mugs, etc. covered. It is essential to empty out all the containers regularly and wash them well.
- Remember to close all your windows and doors by mid-morning.
- Wear long-sleeved trousers and tops to keep yourself covered.
- Buy mosquito screens, nets or fibre glass meshes for your windows if you live in a mosquito-infested area. Magnetic insect repellent screens will also help.
- Indoor residual spraying with an insecticide can also help in keeping mosquitoes at bay.
The content has been verified by Dr Amitabh Parti, Director, Internal Medicine, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.