Traveler Alert: Chikungunya Virus

If you are planning a trip to the Caribbean or farther south, don’t forget to pack bug spray. It will help protect you from a disease called chikungunya (pronounced chik-en-gun-ye).

What is chikungunya?

Chikungunya is a type of virus. You can get it from a mosquito bite. Mosquitoes that attack during the day are the main carriers of the disease. If they bite an infected person, they can pass the virus on to healthy people.

Chikungunya was first found in Africa and Asia in the 1950s. It has gradually spread to other parts of the world. Most recently, there have been outbreaks in the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as India and parts of Asia. In 2007, a large outbreak occurred in Italy. Most people in the U.S. who develop the disease have traveled to these areas. But a few cases originated in Florida.

What are the symptoms?

Most people with chikungunya have a high fever and severe joint pain, often in the hands and feet. This joint pain gives the virus its African name, meaning “that which bends up.” Some people may also have:

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle pain

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Joint swelling

  • Rash

Most people infected with chikungunya recover within a week. It rarely results in death. But fatigue and a feeling of poor health can last for months. Joint pain and stiffness may last for years after the initial illness.

Like the flu, chikungunya can turn into a serious ailment. That’s more likely to happen in certain groups of people. These include young children, pregnant women, and older adults. People with other medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes are also at risk for complications.

How is chikungunya diagnosed and treated?

If you think you or a loved one may have chikungunya, see a doctor right away. He or she will do a physical exam. The doctor will also ask about your symptoms, medical history, and any recent travel. Chikungunya can resemble other illnesses, such as dengue. A series of blood tests can help diagnose the virus.

No medicine is currently available to treat chikungunya. The best care plan involves plenty of rest and lots of fluids. Acetaminophen may help ease the fever and joint pain.

How can you prevent chikungunya?

Scientists have yet to create a vaccine to prevent chikungunya. But you can lower your chance of getting it. Limit your exposure to mosquitoes, especially when you travel to places where the virus is active.

Follow these steps to help protect you and loved ones from chikungunya:

  • Apply mosquito spray on exposed skin before heading outside. Choose products with the chemicals DEET or picaridin. They offer lasting protection.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.

  • Use air conditioning or screens on windows and doors.

  • Dump out standing water in outside containers, such as flowerpots or buckets. Mosquitoes that carry chikungunya like to breed in these places.

  • Avoid traveling to areas with the virus if you have a condition that may make the illness worse.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Last Review Date: 3/1/2017
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