According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne viral disease that was first described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952. The name ‘chikungunya’ derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning “to become contorted” and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain. Chikungunya fever has reached epidemic levels since 2004 as it has spread from typically affected zones in parts of Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, to Europe and the Americas.
Below are some more important facts about chikungunya and the virus, commonly referred to as “chik v”:
- The virus is transmitted by the bites of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus female mosquitoes. These two species can also transmit other mosquito-borne viruses, including dengue. These mosquitoes bite throughout daylight hours, especially in the early morning and late afternoon. However, the Aedes aegypti mosquito also feeds indoors.
- Chikungunya cannot be spread directly from person to person, but in very rare cases, the virus can be transmitted from mother to newborn around the time of birth.
- Onset of illness usually occurs within four to eight days of being bitten by an infected mosquito, but can range from two to 12 days.
Signs and Symptoms
- Sudden and high fever
- Severe joint pain, mainly in the arms and legs, which usually lasts for a few days or may be prolonged to weeks
- Muscle pain
- Back pain
- Rash (about 50 per cent of affected people)
According to the WHO, “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.”
Diagnosis and Treatment
See your doctor is you display any or all of the symptoms described above. S/he will order a blood test to confirm the presence of anti-chikungunya antibodies.
There is no vaccine or antiviral medication available to treat chik v. However, doctors generally prescribe pain and fever medication. The Ministry of Health advises that you only use paracetamol pain killers as aspirin, ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs may increase your risk of bleeding. Patients should also get plenty of rest.
Since there is no vaccine to prevent chik v infection or disease, the only ‘cure’ is to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Here are some tips:
- Destroy mosquito breeding grounds by emptying water from containers such as old tyres, drums, barrels, discarded containers, bottles, flowerpots and saucers, pet dishes – anything that can hold stagnant water.
- Scrub containers after you discard the water as mosquito larvae may still remain alive.
- Cover all drums, tanks, barrels and buckets that are used to store water.
- Cover trash containers to keep out rain water.
- Punch holes in the bottom of tins before placing them in the garbage.
- Clear or help to clean blocked drains near your home.
- Use window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net.
- Use insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and lemon, citronella or eucalyptus oils and para-menthane-diol products.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants as much as possible to cover your skin, but do not spray repellent on the skin under your clothing.
Read our content and community specialist’s personal account of dealing with chik v.