Prior to 2013, chikungunya cases and outbreaks were prevalent in countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
In late 2013, the first local transmission of chikungunya virus in the Americas was identified in Caribbean countries and territories. The virus then spread throughout most of the Americas through viral infection of the native mosquito population.
In India, chikungunya is particularly prevalent during the monsoon season because of abundances of stagnant water, which provide ample opportunity for breeding populations of mosquitoes to form.
Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are the two most common species of mosquito to spread the virus. Both of these species typically bite during the morning, or early evening before dusk.
Chikungunya was first described in a 1952 outbreak in Tanzania. The name “chikungunya” derives from a word in the Kimakonde language. The meaning of the word is “to become contorted” and describes the symptoms of the disease, the most notable of which is joint pain. This results in a hunched appearance in severe cases.
Symptoms typically start a few days following a bite from an infected mosquito. Much like other mosquito-borne infections, chikungunya begins with the onset of a fever, accompanied by headaches and nausea. These symptoms are easily confused with malaria or dengue fever. The identifying symptom that is characteristic of chikungunya is the joint pain.
Most patients will recover from the joint pain, though it can persist for months, or even years. In these cases the symptoms may become so severe that they are debilitating. It is, however, rare that chikungunya is the cause of mortality, though it can contribute to be a cause of death in a person with pre-existing conditions or in the elderly.
Prevention and treatment
Chikungunya cannot be cured. Currently treatment is limited to symptom management. As there is no also no vaccine, strategies to prevent the disease typically involve the prevention of mosquito bites.
As the mosquito species that spread the virus typically bite during the day, insecticide-treated mosquito nets are of limited use. They are however, still advised, as there is still the chance that mosquitoes may bite at night, spreading other diseases.
Insect repellant along with clothes that cover as much of the body as possible are advised to limit the possibility of bites.