What is Chikungunya?

Chikungunya is a viral disease spread by mosquitoes. Chikungunya symptoms include severe and persistent joint pain, body rash, headache and fever. Initial symptoms are similar to dengue fever. It is usually NOT life threatening. But the joint pains can last for a long time and full recovery may take months. Usually patient gets life long immunity from infection and hence re-infection is very rare.

History of Chikungunya Disease

Chikungunya(pronounced as chiki-en-GUN-yah) disease was first detected in 1952 in africa at a place called Makonde Plateau. This is a border area between Tanzania and Mozambique. The name "chikungunya" is from the Makonde language and its meaning is "that which bends up". This is a reference to the Chikungunya symptom where patients walk in a stooped posture due to joint pain. Chikungunya is also known as Chicken guinea, Chicken gunaya and Chickengunya. The presence of the word Chicken has also lead to a lot of misconceptions about the disease.

Chikungunya outbreaks are usually recorded within an interval of 7-8 years. Between 1960 and 1980 a number of outbreaks were reported from Asia and Africa. It made a comeback in recent years and is now being reported regularly from India, Indonesia, Maldives and Thailand. In 2006, a large outbreak of Chikungunya was reported from La Réunion Island (France) with estimates of over 100,000 people infected and 200 deaths. In 2010, many cases were reported from Delhi. Due to its non fatal nature, a large number of Chikungunya infections go unreported.

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What causes Chikungunya Fever?

Chikungunya disease is a viral disease transmitted in humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Aedes aegypti mosquito (also called yellow fever mosquito) is the primary transmission agent of Chikungunya Virus. This is usually found in tropics and hence Chikungunya is predominantly seen in asian countries. In recent cases, another mosquito species named Aedes albopictus is found to be a carrier. Aedes aegypti bites during day time and hence day time mosquito bite is the main reason for transmission.

Presence of stagnated water in and around human inhabitation is one of the main causes of increased aedes mosquito population. This in turn causes a large number of mosquito bites leading to the rapid spread of Chikungunya virus.

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Chikungunya Symptoms

Chikungunya typically starts with one or more of the following symptoms - chills, fever, vomiting, nausea, head ache and joint pain. The attack is sudden and sometimes it is accompanied with rashes. Severe joint pain is the main and the most problematic symptom of Chikungunya.

Other less commonly seen symptoms include mouth ulcers, loss of taste and conjunctivitis. The fever usually subsides in a couple of days, but other symptoms may last for a longer duration. In some cases joint pain persisted for years.

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Treatment of Chikungunya

There is no antiviral drug or medicine specifically for Chikungunya. But since chikungunya is cured by immune system in almost all cases there is no need to worry. Treatment usually is for the symptoms and include taking sufficient rest, taking more fluid food and medicines to relieve pain (paracetamol for example). Aspirin should be avoided.

Alternative medical systems such as ayurveda and homeopathy has specific treatments for Chikungunya. Many of these treatments are helpful in reducing the symptoms especially the joint pain.

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Prevention of Chikungunya

We are yet to find a vaccine for Chikungunya. The good news is that a number of Chikungunya vaccines are in experimental stage. Currently the only way to prevent Chikungunya disease to avoid mosquito bites! Chikungunya virus spreads from human to human only through mosquito carrier. Hence mosquito breeding control is the best way to fight Chikungunya.

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Frequently asked questions on Chikungunya

How Chikungunya affects pregnancy? Is Chikungunya fatal? Are there any alternate medicines for treatment?. Click here for a collection of frequently asked questions and answers on Chikungunya disease...

Latest News on Chikungunya

Research is ongoing to find a vaccine for Chikungunya. The disease is spreading outside Asia and it is suspected that new strains of Chikungunya virus are out there. Click here latest news and updates on Chikungunya fever...