Chikungunya is a:
(1) Native American ceremony
(2) An ancient language
(3) High tribal official
(4) A viral disease
I’m a doctor, and until I started learning about travel medicine, I would not have known that Chikungunya is a viral disease. Like malaria, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever, it is transmitted by mosquitoes. This illness generates concern from doctors and international travelers because there is no protective vaccination or any effective treatment of the disease. Even though most readers here have never heard of this disease, millions of people in Asia and Africa are infected with the virus.
There is an acute phase of the illness, characterized by high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and a skin rash, and a chronic form that has debilitating arthritis that can last months or even years. Fortunately, most people recover.
Scientists have just announced the results of exciting research on developing a vaccine against Chikungunya fever. Monkeys received an experimental vaccine and did not become ill when exposed to the virus. These results were so promising, that scientists expect to begin human trials of the vaccine. If successful, this would prevent suffering in millions of people throughout the world.
Since there is no vaccine or treatment, international travelers need to avoid mosquitoes. Precautions are similar to those for other mosquito-borne illnesses.
- Use insect repellents with DEET
- Wear long sleeves and long pants, preferably treated with mosquito repellent
- Avoid or eliminate standing water
- No open windows
While there is no vaccine yet, you can still protect yourself. Discuss your itinerary with your travel doctor, especially if Asia or Africa are your destinations. Chikungunya is probably an unfamiliar disease to you; let’s keep it that way.