Chikungunya Virus: Symptoms, Causes, Transmission, And Treatment

Certain species of mosquitoes are known to spread viruses and bacteria that can infect a human once bitten. A particular problem with these infectious diseases is that many of them cause symptoms that are very similar – which makes it difficult to initiate prompt treatment in some cases when diagnostic tests cannot be conducted quickly after symptoms start to appear.

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne infection that recently caused concern in the United States, after 1.1 million patients were infected with the disease in just one year. The disease can only be transmitted by two particular mosquito species. Here, we will consider the symptoms of this disease, look at how the disease is diagnosed, and also consider what treatments can be used to relieve symptoms and speed up recovery.

What Is Chikungunya?

Chikungunya is an infection caused by a virus and results in a viral infectious disease when it enters the human body. The disease is usually not considered very serious, but there are some rare cases where the complications can become fatal. Understanding the risk factors of this disease can help individuals determine when they would be at risk of the infection. In cases of entering an area where the disease is considered a risk, individuals are advised to become educated on the symptoms that may signal the presence of this disease.

The virus was not prevalent in the United States until 2013, when the first case of the disease was reported in the United States. Since this first case of the disease in the United States, approximately 1.1 million people were infected with the disease in one year.  

Chikungunya is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. This viral disease will causes severe joint pain and fever. Other symptoms include headache, muscle pain, nausea, rash and fatigue.
Chikungunya is transmitted by infected mosquitoes

What Causes Chikungunya?

The Chikungunya viral infection is caused by an Alphavirus called the chikungunya virus. Two species of mosquitoes can become infected with the virus, including the Aedes albopictus species and the Aedes aegypti species. The virus is not transmitted directly between people, but when an infected person is bitten by a mosquito that is not infected with the virus, the infection can spread to another person when that mosquito bites an uninfected individual. Once infected, the virus will be present in the patient’s blood for up to one week (seven days) – this means that, even after the symptoms of the infection has cleared up, the patient will still be able to transmit the virus to a mosquito should they be bitten.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Chikungunya?

A relatively large number of symptoms may become present in a patient who contracts the Chikungunya viral infection. In most cases, the patient will start to experience the symptoms of the disease in approximately four to seven after they are exposed to the virus.

The most common symptom associated with this disease include a high fever, which will usually be around 40 degrees Celsius. Most patients also tend to experience joint inflammation, tenderness and pain – the most commonly affected joints include those in the patient’s wrists, phalanges, ankles, knees, and their lower back joints.

Other symptoms that may also develop include a rash, muscle pain and tenderness, fatigue, nausea, and headaches.

Can Chikungunya Cause Death?

Most symptoms caused by Chikungunya usually only lasts for around two to three days. Some symptoms, such as joint pain and tenderness, may last for a few months and not clear with the other symptoms. There are, however, some rare cases where complications may develop that can become fatal when not treated promptly.

Possible complications that may be caused by the Chikungunya virus include neurological imbalances, myocarditis, jaundice, and bullous lesions that may be severe. Additionally, the kidneys may also be affected by the virus, which may lead to the development of an acute renal disease. Liver damage may also occur in some patients. Additionally, there have also been cases where the eyes were affected, leading to eye diseases like retinitis and uveitis. Seizures may also occur in patients who contract the Chikungunya virus, but this is a very rare complication of the disease.

Another rare complication that patients need to be wary of is meningoencephalitis, as explained by a review paper published in the Journal of Global Infectious Diseases. Even though rare, patients should be educated on the symptoms that may indicate this complication and act promptly to reduce the risk of fatal complications caused by the inflammation of their meninges and their brain.

How Is Chikungunya Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of this viral infection is an important step for patients since the symptoms associated with Chikungunya is similar to symptoms of many other mosquito-borne infectious diseases, such as dengue fever. Treatments for these conditions often defer, which is why a physician will need to determine whether the patient has contracted this particular infectious disease prior to advising on an appropriate treatment plan.

The physician will start with a physical examination and by asking the patient about the symptoms they are experiencing. Other data will also be collected, such as when and where the patient was bitten by a mosquito, what country they have travelled to, and additional information that could help the physician determine if the patient was at risk for Chikungunya, or rather another type of mosquito-borne infection.

The physical examination, along with questions about the symptoms and where the individual has recently travelled to, cannot be used alone to diagnose this disease. Apart from these steps, the physician will also need to request laboratory tests to determine if the Chikungunya virus is present in the patient’s bloodstream.

Blood samples will be used to determine if antibodies against the Chikungunya virus is present in the patient’s body. This would signal the presence of the viral infection. The antibodies will be present in the patient’s body for up to two months after they have contracted the disease. An ELISA test, also known as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, is currently the most preferred option for testing and diagnosing the disease.

What Are The Treatment Options For Chikungunya?

No treatments have yet been developed specifically for patients who develop Chikungunya. Furthermore, no vaccine has been approved to help immunize the patient’s body against the virus that causes the disease. Fortunately, the disease is rarely fatal and usually only lasts for a few days, which means, in most cases, supportive care and treatments that focus on the symptoms the patient is experiencing instead of the actual disease should be adequate.

Patients are advised to rest up for about two or three days until the symptoms start to clear. The patient should also maintain an adequate intake of fluids to avoid dehydration. Furthermore, several types of medication have been suggested to assist in reducing the particular symptoms that they may be experiencing due to the presence of this infection. These medications will aim to reduce the patient’s fever, as well as to alleviate both pain and inflammation. Pharmaceutical drugs used among patients with this disease usually include paracetamol and ibuprofen. Paracetamol helps to relieve fever and reduce pain. Ibuprofen can be used when inflammation is present.

Can Chikungunya Be Prevented?

While numerous mosquito-borne disease has vaccines to help prevent the infection, Chikungunya is one particular infectious disease that does not have any type of vaccine to protect individuals who will be at risk.

Even though no vaccine has yet been approved for the disease, there are currently trials being conducted on vaccines that could assist with reducing the prevalence of the disease. The vaccine against this disease is currently being developed by PaxVax. The company is working on the vaccine with the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. At the moment, the vaccine is undergoing Phase 2 trials. Even though still at an early stage, the company has announced that the vaccine is looking promising and might be approved and available for travellers and others at risk of Chikungunya soon.

Where Is Chikungunya A Risk?

Prior to the 2013 outbreak of the Chikungunya in the Americas, the virus was only prevalent in a small number of countries. In particular, individuals residing or planning to travel to certain regions of Africa were considered to be at the highest risk. Regions such as Gabon, Comoros, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Madagascar, Mayotte, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, and Guinea were considered to be high-risk regions for the viral infection.

Apart from Africa, several other countries have also reported outbreaks of this disease. These include Asia, Europe, and the Pacific Islands.

Chikungunya is not prevalent throughout the entire Americas at the moment, but there are certain areas where people should be wary. In particular, areas such as Brazil, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Saint Lucia, Nicaragua, and Paraguay are considered the high-risk areas in the Americas.

Conclusion

The Chikungunya virus is transmitted by a mosquito bite and usually only lasts for a few weeks, although some symptoms can continue to be present for several months. While no vaccination has yet been developed to assist with the prevention of this mosquito-borne disease, several effective techniques can be used to prevent mosquito bites, especially in areas where the infection is more prevalent. Treatment is not specific to the infection, but rather involves supportive care and additional options to address the symptoms a patient is experiencing.