There has been a lot of talk about the chikungunya virus which has recently been plaguing many Caribbean countries including Dominica. It is very unlikely that you can fall sick without someone asking if you are suffering from chikungunya nowadays. The disease, which is transmitted by the infamous black and white aedes aegypti mosquito already associated with dengue, is now an epidemic in the Caribbean region. Here are a few resources to help clear up confusion about what the disease is, how it is transmitted,the symptoms of the disease and how infection it can be prevented or contained.
What is Chikungunya?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains what chikungunya is.
Chikungunya is an illness caused by a virus that spreads through mosquito bites. Symptoms of chikungunya include fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, rash, and muscle or joint pain. Symptoms usually last for a few days to a few weeks, but some people may feel tired for several weeks.
Symptoms of Chikungunya
The World Health Organization explains the symptoms of chikunguya.
Chikungunya is characterized by an abrupt onset of fever frequently accompanied by joint pain. Other common signs and symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. The joint pain is often very debilitating, but usually lasts for a few days or may be prolonged to weeks.
Most patients recover fully, but in some cases joint pain may persist for several months, or even years. Occasional cases of eye, neurological and heart complications have been reported, as well as gastrointestinal complaints. Serious complications are not common, but in older people, the disease can contribute to the cause of death. Often symptoms in infected individuals are mild and the infection may go unrecognized, or be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue occurs.
To protect yourself from chikungunya you should avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, especially the aedes aegypti mosquito. This may be easier said than done but the same steps taken to prevent the breeding and spread of mosquitoes are necessary to control the spread of the chikungunya virus. Ensuring that there is no stagnant water in or around your environs which may be breeding grounds for mosquitoes is a first step. Using mosquito repellent, mosquito nets covering your body are all ways of preventing infection.
The World Health Organization explains that blood tests can be used to determine if someone showing symptoms of chikungunya actually have the disease.
Several methods can be used for diagnosis. Serological tests, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA), may confirm the presence of IgM and IgG anti-chikungunya antibodies. IgM antibody levels are highest three to five weeks after the onset of illness and persist for about two months. Samples collected during the first week after the onset of symptoms should be tested by both serological and virological methods (RT-PCR).
The virus may be isolated from the blood during the first few days of infection. Various reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction (RT–PCR) methods are available but are of variable sensitivity. Some are suited to clinical diagnosis. RT–PCR products from clinical samples may also be used for genotyping of the virus, allowing comparisons with virus samples from various geographical sources.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that there is no cure for chikungunya. You are basically limited to treating symptoms while the disease goes its course.
There is currently no vaccine or medicine to prevent chikungunya. Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites.