What Is the Chikungunya Virus?

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Mosquitoes can pass chikungunya and dengue viruses. Joao Paulo Burini/Moment/Getty Images

The chikungunya virus is mosquito borne illness that has been identified in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Indian and Pacific Oceans and as of late 2013 - the Caribbean Islands.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of infection with the chikungunya virus are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle Pain
  • Joint Swelling
  • Rash

The symptoms of chikungunya are also similar to those of dengue fever - which is another mosquito-borne illness that is common in many of the same parts of the world where chikungunya outbreaks have occurred.

Treatment

There is currently no treatment available for chikungunya virus. Although rarely fatal, it can cause serious symptoms and be debilitating.

If you or someone you know has been infected with the chikungunya virus, there are things you can do even though there is no cure.

  • Drink lots of fluids (avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can make dehydration worse)
  • Rest as much as possible to allow your body to heal
  • Take OTC pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen) or aspirin **children under the age of 18 should never take aspirin unless specifically instructed to do so by their health care provider

Usually, the virus resolves on its own within about a week. Occasionally the joint pain can last months.

Prevention

There is no vaccine to prevent chikungunya infections. So the best way to avoid getting it is to avoid getting bit by mosquitoes when you travel to parts of the world where outbreaks have occurred.

Protecting yourself from mosquito bites can be a challenge, but there are things you can do to decrease your chances.

  • Put screens on your windows and doors or at least use mosquito netting over your bed if screens are unavailable.
  • Use air conditioning indoors
  • Empty containers containing standing water near your home - mosquitoes breed in standing water
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible
  • Use Insect Repellant - for information about the best types of repellant to use and how to apply it safely and properly, see the CDC's guide to Insect Repellant Use & Safety

If you are infected with the chikungunya virus, it is important that you take steps to stop the further spread of the illness. It is passed from one person to another when a mosquito bites an infected person during the first week of their illness and then bites someone else - infecting them. To stop the spread of the illness, take extra precautions during the first week that you are sick to avoid getting bit by mosquitoes. Follow the same steps above to reduce your chances of getting bit by mosquitoes while you are sick.

Chikungunya virus is spread by the same types of mosquitoes that spread the dengue virus - Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Unlike mosquitoes you may be used to in the US that are active mostly at dawn and dusk, these mosquitoes are most active during the day.

Chikungunya in the United States

There have been no widespread outbreaks of chikungunya virus in the US. Several states have reported residents that were diagnosed with the infection after traveling to the Caribbean or other parts of the world were outbreaks have been seen. However, no further infections or outbreaks have occurred in the US after the illnesses resolved.

Sources:

"Prevention". Chikungunya Virus 26 Mar 14. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 25 Jun 14.

"Transmission". Chikungunya Virus 26 Mar 14. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 25 Jun 14.

"Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment". Chikungunya Virus 26 Mar 14. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 25 Jun 14.

"FAQ: Insect Repellant Use & Safety". West Nile Virus 14 Nov 13. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 25 Jun 14.

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