What is chikungunya fever?

Online Q&A
11 September 2007

Q: What is chikungunya fever?

A: Chikungunya fever is a viral illness that is spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes. Chikungunya fever typically lasts from five to seven days and frequently causes severe and often incapacitating joint pain which sometimes persists for much longer periods. It is rarely life-threatening. There is no specific treatment for the disease but analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication may be used to reduce the pain and swelling. Aspirin should be avoided.

There is no vaccine against this virus, so preventive measures depend entirely on avoiding mosquito bites which occur mainly during the daytime, and eliminating mosquito breeding sites.

To avoid mosquito bites:

  • wear clothes that cover as much skin as possible;
  • use mosquito repellents on exposed skin and on clothing in accordance with label instructions;
  • use mosquito nets to protect babies, older and sick people and others who rest during the day. The effectiveness of mosquito nets can be improved by treating them with WHO-recommended insecticides.
  • use mosquito coils and insecticide vaporizers during the daytime.

The Aedes mosquitoes that transmit chikungunya virus breed in a wide variety of rain-filled containers which are common around human dwellings and workplaces, such as water storage containers, saucers under potted plants and drinking bowls for domestic animals, as well as discarded tyres and food containers.

To reduce mosquito breeding:

  • remove discarded containers from around the house;
  • for containers that are in use, turn them over or empty every 3–4 days to prevent mosquito breeding including any water-filled containers indoors. Alternatively, completely cover them to keep out mosquitoes.

Between February and October 2006 alone, more than 1.25 million people in India and south Asia were infected with the chikungunya virus. Other large-scale outbreaks of chikungunya fever have occurred in countries of east and central Africa, and the Indian Ocean countries, including Comoros, Gabon, Madagascar, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion (France) and the Seychelles. In September 2007, a chikungunya outbreak following an imported case has been notified in northern Italy. The dramatic resurgence and geographic extension of chikungunya in recent years underlines our vulnerability to emerging infectious diseases spread by insects and emphasizes the importance of sustained control programmes as an essential component of health security.

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