Chikungunya: symptoms, treatment and prevention

Chikungunya is an infection caused by the chikungunya virus. Symptoms include the sudden onset of fever two to four days after exposure. The fever usually lasts two to seven days, while accompanying joint pains typically last weeks or months but sometimes years. The risk of death is a little less than 1 in 1,000; the elderly or those with underlying chronic medical problems are most likely to have severe complications.

The virus is passed to humans by two species of mosquito of the genus Aedes: A. albopictus and A. aegypti. The virus circulates within a number of animals including monkeys, birds, cattle, and rodents.This is in contrast to dengue, for which primates are the only ones affected.

History

Chikungunya was first reported in 1952, during an outbreak in southern Tanzania. It has now been identified in 60 countries including those in Asia, Africa, Europe, America and others. Listed in the World Health Organization’s R&D Blueprint (2016), the recently established Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has it on their agenda to develop a vaccine for Chikungunya, along with other diseases such as MERS, Ebola and others.

Chikungunya: symptoms

Abrupt onset of fever and severe joint pain. There can be other symptoms such as muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash – that is, small red spots all over the body. The joint pain can be severe and sometimes prolonged. The disease does not induce immunity by itself and can recur.

Chikungunya: Diagnosis

IgM titers – a way of measuring the rising level of, or concentration of, antibodies in the blood, which quantifies the body’s response to an active infection – are what are tested in the blood. More specifically, the blood test that doctors ask for is called the RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) but it may not be available, so doctors test the drop in the number of leucocytes in the blood because of the viral infection.

The blood tests are repeated and a constant watch is kept on the blood count. If it drops, it is better to be under medical observation. At this stage, the doctors’ guidance is crucial.

 Chikungunya: treatment

There is no vaccine for chikungunya. Treatment is mainly symptomatic – such as giving painkillers to relieve the joint pain – using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which are not asprin-based. Drugs are mainly analgesics and antipyretics. The patient is advised to take fluids.

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