Chikungunya Fever Guide

Long Term Effects of Chikungunya

Chikungunya disease is rarely fatal and patients usually recover from the disease within a few weeks. Most patients recover quickly and are free from the symptoms such as joint pain within a few weeks or months. However in some patients, Chikungunya may cause long term health effects and reduced quality of life.

The most common long term side effect of Chikungunya is joint pain (Arthralgia). Persistent and disabling joint pain is observed in patients who had severe Chikungunya virus infection. Studies have found that a large number of patients had discomfort in performing daily activities such as walking or getting dressed even after 18 months of the disease. Joint swelling on ankles was also observed in some patients.

A study of 88 Chikungunya survivors in Reunion Island concludes that persistent joint pain is a frequent problem in patients even after 18 months of infection. More than 50% of patients reported long term joint pain. Another study suggests that some patients with joint pain do not respond well to the analgesics (painkillers) indicating damage of their nervous system.

Studies have also suggested that Chikungunya can also lead to increased susceptibility to joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Chikungunya can also worsen pre-existing chronic inflammatory rheumatisms and in turn it may lead to treatments with severe side effects.

Pregnant women are at a higher risk, but miscarriages are rarely reported in early pregnancies. Usually Chikungunya virus is NOT transmitted to the baby. However there is a possibility of transmission of Chikungunya virus to the baby during birth.

Management of Long Term Joint Pain of Chikungunya

Persistent joint pain are usually treated with Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and Corticosteroids. Physiotherapy and mild exercise is also useful for management of pain and recovery. Simple exercise can help strengthen the muscles around the joints and can reduce pain and stiffness. Some of the useful simple movement exercises are,

  • Sit on a chair and then extend each leg parallel to the floor and hold it for a few seconds before lowering it. Repeat this less than 10 times at a time. You can do this 2 or 3 times a day.
  • Walk for 10 to 20 minutes at a mild pace. Avoid sitting for long periods of time at a stretch.
  • Do simple movement exercises by moving fingers, hand and elbow.

Some patients may need long term lifestyle changes for pain management.