Rare and severe forms of Chikungunya infection can lead to the damage of central nervous system. This is a potentially fatal complication of Chikungunya in infants and in older patients. It can lead to cerebral palsy, neurocognitive delays and learning difficulties in children, and dementia in older patients. There is no specific treatment available for Chikungunya.
Encephalitis (inflammation of brain) was known as a possible complication of Chikungunya for a while and recent studies have shown that the possibility of encephalitis is up to 5 cases per 1000 Chikungunya infections. The death rate of Chikungunya virus associated encephalitis is estimated to be around 15%. It is also noted that infants and people older than 65 are at a higher risk for the brain infection caused by Chikungunya. Over 40% of the infants with Chikungunya caused encephalitis suffered from long term disabilities. The study was based on the 2006 Chikungunya outbreak in Reunion Island which caused more than 300,000 Chikungunya infections.
In addition to fever, symptoms of encephalitis include drowsiness and disorientation, seizures(fits), loss of consciousness and neck rigidity. Corticosteroids such as Prednisone is used to treat encephalitis.
It is always better to take precautions to prevent Chikungunya infections as currently there is no treatment or vaccine available for the disease. Since Chikungunya is spread through mosquito bite, the best prevention is to minimize mosquito bites by using mosquito nets, mosquito repellent creams and clothing which covers hands and legs.