Chikungunya is a virus that's spread by mosquitoes. You can't get it from another person, but mosquitoes do get it from biting a person who is infected. Most people don't die from it, but you could have some lasting pain. In fact, the name of the chikungunya virus in the African Makonde language means "bent over in pain."
It's been seen in as many as 60 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The chikungunya virus isn't common in the U.S., compared to other countries. Cases of the virus were reported starting in 2014 among travelers returning to the U.S. from affected areas. Since then, rare cases of local transmission have been reported in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The chikungunya virus is spread by the yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito, which are in the Southeastern U.S., and parts of the Southwestern U.S. The Asian tiger mosquito is also found along the East Coast and in the lower Midwestern U.S.
How Do I Know if I Have It?
You may see signs of chikungunya around 3 to 7 days after you’re bitten. Chikungunya symptoms typically include fever and joint pain. You also might have a headache, nausea, red eyes, a rash , and be very tired.
It can be hard to know for sure that you have chikungunya because it can look like other illnesses spread by mosquitoes, such as dengue fever or the Zika virus.
See your doctor if you have these symptoms, especially if you have been somewhere that’s recently had an outbreak or live in an area where it has been reported.
How Is Chikungunya Diagnosed?
The doctor will take a sample of your blood to check for signs that your body is fighting off the virus. There is a test in the U.S. that can check for chikungunya, the Zika virus, and dengue. After you're tested, your doctor will advise you on how to treat your symptoms.
How Do You Treat Chikungunya?
There’s no antiviral chikungunya treatment – or treatment that can kill the virus itself. There's no vaccine to prevent it, either. Doctors just treat symptoms.
Acetaminophen will help with pain and fever, but you shouldn't take any of the following medicines until you rule out similar infections (like dengue):
- Naproxen sodium
Drink plenty of liquids and get a lot of rest.
If you have joint and muscle pain that won't go away, your doctor may give you steroids or medicines such as methotrexate that are used to treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
What's the Prognosis for Chikungunya?
Most people don't die from the virus. In fact, you'll probably recover in a few weeks. Acute symptoms usually end after 7 to 10 days.
There can be long-term effects from getting the chikungunya virus. Some people have lasting joint and/or muscle pain that can last for months – and in some cases, it lasts for years. That's called chronic chikungunya arthritis. About 40% of people who get the virus get arthritis from it.
The virus is typically harder on newborns, people over 65, and people who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. If you or someone you know has symptoms and is in one of these groups, call your doctor right away.
If you get the chikungunya virus, you're likely to be protected from getting it again.
How Can I Lower My Risk for Mosquito Bites?
If you’re going to a place that has an outbreak, you can do some things to lower your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes:
- Wear long sleeves and long pants.
- Stay in screened-in areas, or indoors where there’s air conditioning.
- If you’re in a place with no air conditioning or screens in the windows, make sure there’s a mosquito net over your bed.
- If you go outside without sleeves, wear a mosquito repellent that has DEET. If you need to wear sunscreen, put that on first.
- Dump out any standing water in things like flower pots in your house or hotel room.