Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. It is caused by the chikungunya virus and is characterized by sudden fever and joint pain that can be severe and debilitating.

The name “chikungunya” derives from a word in the Kimakonde language that translates to “that which bends ups,” referring to the contorted appearance of sufferers with joint pain.The disease was first described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952.
Although chikungunya had previously been detected in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions, local transmission of the virus was first detected in the Caribbean in 2013. Since then, the virus has spread throughout most of the Americas, including the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors of Chikungunya

Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. It is caused by the chikungunya virus (CHIKV).

An infected person cannot directly transmit the virus to another person. The disease is spread when a mosquito feeds on a person with the virus circulating in their blood. The mosquito can pick up the virus and spread it to another person through its bite.

According to the CDC, no infants have been found to have been infected with chikungunya virus through breastfeeding.

Chikungunya virus is most often spread to people by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. These are the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue virus.

CHIKV epidemics in Africa and Asia have been primarily associated with the urban mosquito A. aegypti. But since an outbreak on Réunion in 2005, A. albopictus has been introduced as a second major spreader of CHIKV.
A. albopictus is more widely distributed and has the ability to survive in temperate climates. This is unlike A. aegypti, which live predominantly in tropical and subtropical areas.

Proximity of mosquito breeding sites to human habitation is a significant risk factor for chikungunya.

Duration of Chikungunya

According to the CDC, fevers typically last from several days to a week. The fever can also be biphasic, meaning it may come in two stages.

Complications of Chikungunya

Serious complications are not common, but occasionally infection can lead to serious problems of the skin, eyes, kidneys, heart, or nervous system.

Rare but serious complications include:

  • Myocarditis
  • Ocular disease (uveitis, retinitis)
  • Hepatitis
  • Acute renal disease
  • Severe bullous lesions
  • Neurologic disease such as meningoencephalitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, myelitis, or cranial nerve palsies

Related Conditions of Chikungunya

The symptoms of chikungunya are similar to those of dengue and Zika, diseases spread by the same mosquitoes that transmit chikungunya. Chikungunya can be misdiagnosed in areas where the three diseases are common. Dengue fever is more lethal than chikungunya, and prompt recognition and treatment of it can be lifesaving.

Chikungunya can evolve into a long-lasting, debilitating rheumatic disorder with symptoms that mimic rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers are still trying to understand the exact mechanism by which the chikungunya virus induces persistent arthritis. One theory is that chikungunya alters the immune response. It’s also thought that persistence of viral antigens could be a contributing factor to the development of chronic chikungunya arthritis.

Resources We Love

A great resource from U.S. National Library of Medicine where you can search a database of more than 360,000 research studies in all 50 states and 219 countries. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, you can find information here about studies that are currently or soon to be recruiting including eligibility criteria, details on how they are being conducted and length of participation. The database also includes details of completed studies that may provide you with information about treatments and therapies soon to be in the pipeline.

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

A program of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), GARD offers reliable information on more than 6,500 conditions, including chikungunya. In addition to up-to-date information on the diseases, you can search a database of orphan drugs (treatments the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for rare diseases) to learn more about available treatments. If you can't find the information you are looking for on the site, you can contact one of their information specialists by phone or email for answers to your questions.

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)

This patient advocacy organization has a mission to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by rare diseases, including chikungunya. On NORD's website, you will find detailed information about your disease or disorder as well as guidelines to help you locate an experienced specialist.

Additional reporting by Ingrid Strauch.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

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