Chikungunya - How to Fight the Bite?

Chikungunya rarely kills, but it’s symptoms can be severe & debilitating


Chikungunya is transmitted through the Aedes mosquito just like Dengue. It rarely kills, but it can have severe and debilitating symptoms. Unfortunately, Dengue has completely overshadowed Chikungunya because of higher mortality rates. But with hundreds of recent Chikungunya cases reported in Delhi and other cities, the disease is now back in the spotlight. 


How does Chikungunya spread?


Chikungunya is an infection caused by a virus that spreads through mosquito bites. It is characterized by sudden onset of fever and severe joint pain. Other symptoms may include muscle pain, headache, nausea and rash.


Signs and symptoms of chikungunya usually appear two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Death from Chikungunya is rare, but the disease can cause severe complications in the elderly and new-borns.


The name chikungunya is derived from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning ‘to become contorted’, and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain.


Chikungunya virus spreads through the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes - the same mosquitoes that spread dengue. The mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the Chikungunya virus. The infected mosquitoes then spread the virus to other people through bites.


I have fever - can it be Chikungunya?


The symptoms of Chikungunya usually begin 2-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.


- Most common symptoms are sudden-onset high fever and severe joint pain

- The joint pain can be debilitating and can last for a few days or up to a few weeks

- Other symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain or rash


Consult a doctor if you develop any of the symptoms described above. Note that symptoms of Chikungunya and Dengue are similar - but while Chikungunya is rarely fatal, dengue can be. Serious complications are not common in Chikungunya except in the elderly and new borns. 


“If you have very high fever, severe muscle and joint pains, vomiting or abdominal pain do not ignore it. Consult a doctor at the earliest," says Dr. Anupama N., Consultant, Preventive Medicine, Sakra World Hospital.


How do I confirm it is Chikungunya?


Get a blood test done. During the first few days of infection, a blood test is usually done to detect dengue antigen or chikungunya antigen. After that, the focus shifts to detecting dengue antibodies or chikungunya antibodies. Identifying the exact disease is critical as Dengue is more dangerous and may need emergency medical intervention.


Do I need to be on anti-viral drugs?


There is no specific anti-viral drug treatment for Chikungunya. Treatment is directed at relieving the symptoms. So what should you do?


- Get plenty of rest

- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration

- Take paracetamol to reduce fever and pain

- DO NOT take aspirin and or any other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)

- If you have an existing medical condition and take medicines, consult your doctor


Most patients feel better within a week. In some people, however, the joint pain may persist for a few months. 


“If you have been diagnosed with chikungunya and the doctor has advised homecare, follow his advice diligently. Drink plenty of fluids, take good rest and eat simple, easily digestible foods. If you have been given any medicines, take them regularly,” adds Dr. Anupama N. of Sakra World Hospital.


Is there vaccine to prevent Chikungunya?


Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent Chikungunya or Dengue. The only solution is to protect yourself from mosquito bites.


- Use mosquito repellents to prevent mosquito bites

- Use mosquito screens on windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from entering

- Use a mosquito net if sleep in an area that is not screened or air-conditioned

- Wear long-sleeved shirts/ long pants to avoid mosquito bites when you are outdoors

- Do not keep standing water in flowerpots, buckets and utensils for more than a few days (the Aedes mosquito breeds in clean water)

- Strain stored drinking water using a clean cloth to remove mosquito larvae


Source: Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Directorate of National Vector Born Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP)


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