Chikungunya (pronounced chik-en-GUN-ye) virus is a disease transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. It causes fever and intense joint pain. The virus alone is seldom fatal, but the symptoms can be severe and disabling.
In Puerto Rico, Aedes aegypti is the principal mosquito carrier of Chikungunya virus. This species of mosquito is closely associated with humans and their dwellings. They like to live and breed in a place that is close to their food source — humans — and generally in urban areas, where there are more people available for them to bite! Aedes aegypti prefers to rest in darker cool areas, such as under furniture and in closets — convenient for them to bite people indoors and/or around the household and yard.
Chikungunya is characterized by the abrupt onset of fever, often accompanied by severe joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Symptoms typically appear 2 to 12 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms last about a week, but the joint pain may persist for weeks or even months.
The symptoms of Chikungunya are similar to the symptoms of dengue (which we also have here in Puerto Rico), so it is possible to mis-diagnose the disease.
See your doctor if you suspect that you have Chikungunya, and tell your doctor that you recently visited the Caribbean.
There is no specific medication for treatment of a Chikungunya infection. People who think they have Chikungunya should use ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, or paracetamol, to relieve fever and pain. They should also rest, drink plenty of fluids, and consult a physician.
How to Prevent Chikungunya
There is no vaccination to protect you from Chikungunya. So the way to prevent the virus is to prevent getting bitten by an infected mosquito in the first place.
The adult mosquitoes feed (bite) inside a dwelling as well as outside near their “homes”, during the day and at night when the lights are on. To protect yourself, use repellent on your skin while indoors or out. When possible, wear long sleeves and pants for additional protection. Also, make sure window and door screens are secure and without holes. If available, use air-conditioning.
Use mosquito spray (Raid Flying Insect, or something similar) in your hotel room and spray once to twice each day.
For locals, mosquitoes breed in standing water. If there are any places where water lays around your home or workplace, be sure to dump them on a daily basis. This includes pet water bowls, saucers under plants, buckets and anywhere else water might accumulate. Eliminating places where mosquitoes breed will reduce the number of mosquitoes available to spread dengue. We can all help to break the cycle.
How Widespread is Chikungunya in Puerto Rico?
According to CDC: Chikungunya Virus in the United States, 2016 provisional data fro the US.
Chikungunya virus disease became a nationally notifiable condition in 2015. Cases are reported to CDC by state and local health departments using standard case definitions.
- As of August 16, 2016, a total of 63 chikungunya virus disease cases with illness onset in 2016 have been reported to ArboNET from 25 U.S. states (Table & Map). All reported cases occurred in travelers returning from affected areas. No locally-transmitted cases have been reported from U.S. states.
- A total of 99 chikungunya virus disease cases with illness onset in 2016 have been reported to ArboNET from U.S. territories (Table). To date, 98 locally acquired cases and 1 travel-associated case have been reported from Puerto Rico.
- You are not likely to catch Chikungunya at the beach, in the rain forest, on a bio bay tour or on a snorkeling tour — as these are just not places that are that hospitable to the Aedes aegypti mosquito. But remember, no matter where you go or what you do, you might want to take precautions to reduce your chances of getting dengue. I feel it is better to be safe than sorry.