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Disease at a Glance: Chikungunya

Chikungunya is a debilitating viral illness that spreads through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquitoe. The mosquitoe transmits the disease by biting an infected person and then biting someone else. An infected person cannot spread the infection directly to another person, i.e. it is not contagious. The Aedes mosquitoe usually bite during daytime.

 

Chikungunya was first discovered in Africa in the 1950s. The name ‘chikungunya’ is derived from the Kimakonde language of the Makonde tribe in Africa and means ‘that which becomes bent or contorted’. The name was used to describe the stooped posture of people afflicted by this condition. The stooped posture is a result of severe joint pain, which is the most common feature in Chikungunya.

 

Common Symptoms

Sudden onset of flu-like symptoms 
Swollen & painful joints; debilitating joint pain
Red or purple spots, usually on the trunk and limbs 
Headache 
Nausea & vomiting
Photophobia

 

Chikungunya is often confused with Dengue. There are enough similarities – both are viral infections spread by the Aedes mosquitoe. In both conditions, fever and chill come on suddenly 4-7 days after being bitten and may last up to a week. But while myalgia (or muscle pain) is characteristic of Dengue, severe joint pain distinguishes Chikungunya. Also, Chikungunya is rarely fatal, whereas Dengue can be.

 

Chikungunya is characterized by an abrupt onset of flu-like symptoms accompanied by swollen & painful joints as well as a petechial rash (red or purple spots caused by minor haemorrhage, usually on the trunk and limbs). The joint pain or arthralgia can be very debilitating. Some patients also report headaches, nausea, vomiting and photophobia (discomfort to eyes on exposure to bright light). The condition is diagnosed through a blood test (ELISA).

 

There is no specific treatment for Chikungunya. However, doctors may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for symptomatic relief. Plenty of rest is also advised. Recovery usually takes 5 to 15 days but in some cases joint pain may persist for a few months. Currently, there is no vaccine for chikungunya, so the best you can do is to check the water-filled habitats where mosquitoes typically breed.

 

References:

1. World Health Organization (www.who.int)
2. Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India (www.nvbdcp.gov.in)
3. Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (www.cdc.gov)
3. Health & Family Welfare Dept., Govt. of Tamil Nadu (www.tnhealth.org)

 

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