Tips & Resources

Chikungunya Virus Outbreak: What Travellers Need to Know

By the Intrepid 24/7 Content Team

Travellers around the world are becoming familiar with chikungunya—a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Often confused with dengue fever, chikungunya is known for causing long-lasting joint pain in many infected individuals.

Historically, local transmission of chikungunya was limited to Africa, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.  However, in December 2013, the virus was found in the Americas for the first time ever. Since then, there have been 900,000 suspected and confirmed cases in the region, including a handful of cases in Florida.

As the virus makes its appearance in new parts of the world, there are concerns that infected travellers could continue to spread it throughout these regions. To keep safe and contain the problem, it is important for travellers to be informed about chikungunya and how it’s transmitted.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of the chikungunya virus include an abrupt onset of fever, joint pain that is often debilitating, and a general feeling of malaise. Infected persons might also experience headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, swelling of the joints, and rash.

Those infected by the virus will typically begin to experience fever and joint pain around three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito—though symptoms can appear up to twelve days from that point. In most cases, these symptoms will subside anywhere from three to ten days after their onset, but they can sometimes last for months or even years. Roughly half of all infected adults will also experience chronic joint inflammation for up to two years after being infected.

If a rash occurs, it will typically appear on the infected person’s torso or limbs around two to five days after the onset of fever and joint pain. It will then recede along with the rest of the symptoms.

The severity of the infection can vary: some individuals may experience mild symptoms, with up to 28 per cent being asymptomatic—and most patients will make a full recovery. However, chikungunya can become severe or even fatal in some cases. Those at increased risk include elderly individuals, newborns, and those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, and high blood pressure.

There is one silver lining for those who have been infected by the virus: Once you have had chikungunya, you will likely be immune from future infections.

Chikungunya or Dengue Fever?

Chikungunya is often mistaken for dengue fever—a virus with similar symptoms that is spread by the same type of mosquitoes.

The key distinguishing symptom of chikungunya is joint pain, which often persists for long periods of time after infection.

Another defining factor is the location of these conditions across the globe. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mosquito-transmitted virus, be sure to tell your doctor where you’ve travelled recently.

Where is Chikungunya Found?

Chikungunya has been recorded in nearly 40 countries around the world, including locations in Africa, Asia, and parts of Central and South America, as well as islands in the Indian Ocean, Western and South Pacific, and the Caribbean.

The CDC has a complete list of countries where local chikungunya transmission has been recorded.

Since chikungunya’s appearance in the Caribbean, there have been a few cases found in Florida, though it seems there is no major outbreak in the United States as of yet.

At this time, chikungunya is not expected to be locally transmitted within Canada.

Transmission and Prevention

Chikungunya is transmitted between humans by infected mosquitoes—primarily the species Aedes aegypti. Mosquitoes carrying the virus are most active at dawn and in the late afternoon.

There is no vaccine for chikungunya, so the best way to protect yourself is to take precautions against mosquito bites.

Keep yourself safe by following these tips:

  • Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved, and loose-fitting clothing whenever possible
  • Use insect repellant
  • Avoid mosquito hotspots, like standing water
  • Stay in a well-screened and air conditioned room
  • Sleep under a properly deployed mosquito net

For more information, consult the Government of Canada’s “Insect Bite Prevention” fact sheet .

Treatment

While most people infected with chikungunya will make a full recovery, there is no medical cure for the condition, nor any specific antiviral medication to take. Treatment of the condition is therefore focused on relieving the symptoms.

If you are infected with chikungunya, your doctor will likely recommend you take medication to relieve pain and fever symptoms (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, or paracetamol). Infected patients should also make sure to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest to help speed their recovery.

References

American College of Emergency Physicians. (2014). Dengue or chikungunya? Arthritis is the key. Retrieved from http://www.acep.org/Content.aspx?id=82232.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Chikungunya virus. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya.

Deilgat, M., J. Geduld, & M. Drebot. (2014). “Chikungunya outbreak in the Caribbean 2013–2014.” Canada Communicable Disease Report, 40(2). Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/14vol40/dr-rm40-02/dr-rm40-02-chik-eng.php.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2014). Chikungunya: Global update. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/notices-avis/notices-avis-eng.php?id=120.

World Health Organization. (2014). Chikungunya fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs327/en.