Chikungunya Update as Vacation Season Arrives
As we enter vacation season, concerns about what to pack should also be accompanied by awareness of mosquito-borne diseases. Chikungunya is one such disease, so here’s what you and your family should know about it.
The chikungunya virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of the female Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. These are the same mosquitoes that can transmit dengue virus, and they usually strike during the day.
Until recently, chikungunya was rarely seen in the United States. When it was diagnosed, it was in individuals who had traveled to areas of the world where the disease is common. Beginning in 2005, for example, more than 1.5 million cases were reported in areas bordering the Indian Ocean.
Chikungunya is found in Asia, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. More recently it has moved on to the Americas (Caribbean, Mexico, South and Central America, United States). According to the Pan American Health Organization, there were 1.2 million suspected cases of the disease reported from the Americas as of February 2015. About 2,500 of those cases occurred in the continental United States, including Florida.
What is chikungunya?
Chikungunya is characterized by joint pain and fever, which typically begin 3 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Other common symptoms include rash, swollen joints, muscle pain, and headache.
Most people experience resolution of their symptoms within about a week, although joint pain can remain for months and be severe. Individuals who are most likely to have more severe disease include newborns, people age 65 and older, and anyone who had diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.
It is possible to diagnose chikungunya using a blood test. However, there is no cure for the disease nor a vaccine. Treatment of chikungunya consists of medications or natural remedies that focus on reducing fever and pain, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, ginger, and turmeric. Patients also should drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Until now, public health officials did not have a fast and reliable test to detect the presence of chikungunya virus in a mosquito population. However, a new report in the Journal of Medical Entomology notes that VecTOR Test Systems Inc has developed a test that can provide reliable, clear results within one hour. This tool will allow public health personnel to quickly identify the threat of the disease in high-risk areas.
How to prevent chikungunya
The only way to help prevent chikungunya is to protect yourself against mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and long pants when outside in areas where mosquitoes are present. You may choose to use DEET or another chemically based repellent, but be aware that they may pose health risks and that mosquitoes are known to become intolerant to them.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Hinson JM et al. Immuno-chromatographic wicking assay for the rapid detection of chikungunya viral antigens in mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology 2015 May 11 online.
Pan American Health Organization
Powers AM, Logue CH. Changing patterns of chikungunya virus: re-emergence of a zoonotic arbovirus. Journal of General Virology 2007; 88:22363-77
Pan American Health Organization