Once thought to be a tropical disease, the occurrence of chikungunya has now been recorded in more than a quarter of the world’s countries. The chikungunya virus and its treatment options will be discussed here.
What is chikungunya?
Chikungunya is a virus that is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. It usually cannot be passed from one person to another; however, in rare instances, the virus may spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. The word chikungunya means ‘to walk bent’ as the virus causes severe muscle and joint pain.
Chikungunya has been reported in up to 60 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
What are the symptoms of chikungunya?
Fever is usually the first symptom of chikungunya, which is accompanied by a rash. The onset of this disease typically occurs between 4 and 8 days after getting bitten by an infected mosquito.
The following are the most common signs and symptoms associated with chikungunya:
• Fever (up to 104 °F)
• Joint pain
• Muscle pain
Chikungunya leads to severe fever and disabling pain in joints and shares some disease manifestations with dengue and Zika, which can lead to a wrong diagnosis in regions where all these diseases are common. The symptoms of chikungunya typically improve within a week, but joint pain can last for months or years.
If a person returns from a known virus-transmission area and starts to experience high fever and joint pain, a doctor may suggest a set of blood tests to determine whether they have the chikungunya virus or antibodies.
Chikungunya infection can be diagnosed using a variety of methods.
Serological tests, including enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA), can be used to verify the IgG and IgM anti-chikungunya antibodies presence.
Dengue fever must be ruled out as soon as possible due to its higher mortality rate of up to 50% if untreated, compared with that of 0.1% for chikungunya.
Currently, there is no vaccine or medicine available to prevent or treat chikungunya.
Even though the virus is seldom fatal, the symptoms of the disease can be severe and debilitating. Most people get better from the fever within a week, but joint pain can last for months. Even one year later, 20% of patients experience recurring joint pain.
Chikungunya is not treatable with drugs; instead, doctors advise plenty of fluids and rest.
Fever and joint pain can be relieved with over-the-counter medications, which include:
Physiotherapy may be beneficial for chronic pain.
Chikungunya home treatments
The following are some natural remedies that may be used to treat chikungunya:
• Tulsi (basil leaves)
• Honey and sunflower seeds
• Coconut water
• Epsom salt soak
When should I seek medical attention?
Consult a doctor if a person has chikungunya. This is particularly crucial if a person has travelled recently to an area with ongoing outbreak. A doctor may recommend blood tests to check for chikungunya or other diseases. If an individual has chikungunya disease, avoid new mosquito bites to prevent the spread of the virus.
What can I do to avoid getting chikungunya?
If someone is going to a place where there has been a chikungunya outbreak, they should take precautions to avoid getting the disease. Because chikungunya is spread by mosquitoes rather than humans, avoiding mosquito bites is the best defence. To avoid mosquito bites, follow these guidelines:
• Use a DEET- or picaridin-based insect repellent.
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
• When possible, remove any standing water.
• Indoors, use screens, air conditioning, and mosquito netting to keep insects at bay.
If a woman is pregnant and is particularly in the last trimester of pregnancy, she should avoid travelling to areas where there is a chikungunya outbreak. The virus has the potential to infect the baby and lead to serious issues.
An older person or a person suffering from conditions such as heart disease or diabetes is at a higher risk of severe disease than regular population. Avoid travelling to areas where chikungunya outbreaks are active.
Serious complications are uncommon with chikungunya, but the infection can occasionally cause severe problems with the eyes, skin, kidneys, nervous system, or heart.
The following are rare but serious complications that may arise in chikungunya:
• Severe bullous lesions
• Ocular illness (uveitis and retinitis)
• Acute renal disease caused by hepatitis
• Neurologic diseases, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, meningoencephalitis, myelitis, and cranial nerve palsies