Kauvery Newsletters August 2017 Chikungunya

Chikungunya is an illness caused by a virus that spreads through mosquito bites, bites of infected female mosquitoes, to be specific. Although it is rarely fatal, the symptoms can be very severe, long lasting and debilitating.

The word "Chikungunya" literally means "that which bends up" describing the stooped appearance of patients with joint pain.

The affected individual may also suffer from nausea and vomiting. Typically fever lasts for two to three days and ends as abruptly as it began. But other symptoms such as joint pain, rashes, headache can last up to a week. On the other hand, chronic phase is characterised by joint pain with inflammation that can last from weeks to years beyond the acute phase. Recurrent joint pain is experienced by 30-40% of the affected individuals. Most of them become disabled for weeks to months as a result of decreased dexterity, loss of mobility and delayed reaction.

Early diagnosis of the disease is important, mainly to rule out the possibility of the much more dangerous dengue fever, which presents with similar symptoms. The definitive diagnosis of chikungunya is by a blood test. Chikungunya specific antibodies develop in the affected individual's body within a few days after onset of illness and persist for several months, making diagnosis easier.

There are no specific treatments to cure this disease, but measures that are mostly associated with symptomatic management. The affected individual is advised ample rest and plenty of fluids. Most patients recover from the fever within a week, but the joint pain has been known to persist for several months, even a year. Over the counter analgesics are helpful for the pain management. In cases where the pain persists for a longer period, physiotherapy may be helpful. Occasional cases of eye, neurological and heart complications have been reported. There is no chikungunya vaccine available in the market.

Considering that the major mode of transmission of chikungunya is by mosquito bites, it is important to minimize contact with mosquitoes. Preventive measures include, use of mosquito repellent, avoiding places where there is stagnant water, making use of mosquito coils/nets. Basic precautions need to be taken for people travelling to affected/tropical areas where acquiring the infection is more likely. Although the disease is not fatal, the symptoms can be long lasting and lifestyle crippling.

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