Chikun Wah? Like most of you, I cannot begin to pronounce the tongue twisting virus Chikungunya (pronounced chick-un-GOON-ya) and nicknamed Chik-V now afflicting Jamaica. I read with interest the stories posted on Facebook by friends and family who had succumbed to the virus. The Jamaican government declared it an epidemic on October 19, 2014.
Although this has been the most interesting conversation out of Jamaica for some time, it still didn’t register with me. As I sympathized with friends and family who had the virus, and smiled at the “One Pandol, One Pandol, quick” video, my thoughts were I’m in America, no chance of it reaching here. What an unrealistic thought in this globalized world we live in! There have been over 500 reported cases in different states throughout the US, the majority in Florida. And, Canada has also reported cases of the virus in different provinces. Let’s be clear, these cases did not all come from Jamaica but from different Caribbean Islands and South American countries.
Thinking of traveling to Jamaica for the holidays, here’s what you should know about this virus and how to lower your risk of infection. There is no vaccine is available.
What is chikungunya virus?
Chikungunya is a viral infection. The name comes from a Tanzanian word which means, “That which bends up”. It refers to the stooped posture and painful joints that are typical features of this illness. The virus is spread from person to person by Aedes aegypti (Yellow Fever Mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (also Known as Asian Tiger mosquito) mosquitoes. They also transmit dengue fever, another disease cause by a virus.
Where did it come from, and how does it spread?
Chikungunya has been around since the 170o, but was first identified in 1952 in Southern Tanzania. Animals and rodents believed to be infected with the virus were bitten by mosquitoes, which then transmitted the virus to humans. When a mosquito feeds on an infected person, the mosquito can become infected and can bite and infect others.
What are the symptoms of chikungunya?
The symptoms include:
- Sudden high fever (usually >102º F) which may be continuous or intermittent
- Severe joint pain that commonly involves the hands and feet
- Joint swelling
- Back pain
- Rash usually 2-5 days after fever starts
- Other symptoms may include headache, body ache, nausea, vomiting, and redness around the eyes. In unusual cases, infection can involve the brain, eyes, heart, kidney and other organs.
Fatal infections are rare, however many patients have chronic joint pain, arthritis, loss of energy and depression lasting weeks to years.
What is the treatment?
There is no known treatment available. However, you will be treated for the symptoms. Typically, fever-reducing medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are given.
How long does chikungunya last?
The virus can stay in a person’s system for about a week, according to the World Health Organization. Joint pain can go on for several weeks or months.
How severe is it?
According to the Health Organization, the virus is seldom terminal. But can be the contributing cause of death in seniors.
Newborns exposed during delivery, people 65 and older, and people with medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease are particularly vulnerable to infection.
How do you minimize your risk?
If you are like me, the mosquitoes are your neighborhood welcoming committee visiting day or night, indoor or outdoor. So, the best way to prevent Chikungunya is to keep the mosquitoes at bay with the following preventive measures:
- wear light colored clothing
- cover exposed skin with long sleeves tops and bottoms; hats
- use insect repellants
- Staying in an air-conditioned or cool area. Mosquitoes do not thrive in cold temperatures.