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Traveler Alert: Chikungunya Virus

If you are planning a trip to the Caribbean or farther south, don’t forget to pack bug spray. It will help protect you from a disease called chikungunya.

How to say it

chihk-ehn-GOON-yuh

What is chikungunya?

Chikungunya is a type of virus. You can get it from a mosquito bite. Mosquitoes that attack during the day are the main carriers of the disease. If they bite an infected person, they can pass the virus on to healthy people.

Chikungunya was first found in Africa and Asia in the 1950s. It has gradually spread to other parts of the world. Most recently, there have been outbreaks in the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as India and parts of Asia. Beginning in 2014, chikungunya virus disease cases were reported among U.S. travelers returning from affected areas. Cases were first identified in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What are the symptoms?

Most people with chikungunya have a high fever and severe joint pain, often in the hands and feet. This joint pain gives the virus its African name, meaning “that which bends up.” Some people may also have:

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle pain

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Joint swelling

  • Rash

Most people infected with chikungunya recover within a week. It rarely results in death. But fatigue and a feeling of poor health can last for months. Joint pain and stiffness may last for years after the initial illness. In some people, symptoms may go away but general discomfort and joint pain may return in the months after an acute illness.

Like the flu, chikungunya can turn into a serious ailment. That’s more likely to happen in certain groups of people. These include young children, pregnant women, and older adults. People with other health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, are also at risk for complications.

How is chikungunya diagnosed and treated?

If you think you may have chikungunya, see a healthcare provider right away. They will give you a physical exam. The healthcare provider will also ask about your symptoms, health history, and any recent travel. Chikungunya can resemble other illnesses, such as dengue. Your healthcare provider may order blood tests for chikungunya or similar viruses like dengue or Zika.

No medicine is currently available to treat chikungunya. The best care plan involves plenty of rest and lots of fluids. Acetaminophen may help ease the fever and joint pain. Don't take aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs until dengue can be ruled out to reduce risks of bleeding.

How can you prevent chikungunya?

There is currently no vaccine available to prevent chikungunya. But you can take precautions to prevent getting it. Limit your exposure to mosquitoes, especially when you travel to places where the virus is active.

Follow these steps to help protect you from chikungunya:

  • Apply mosquito spray on exposed skin before heading outside. Choose products with the chemicals DEET or picaridin. They offer lasting protection.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.

  • Use air conditioning or screens on windows and doors.

  • Dump out standing water in outside containers, such as flowerpots or buckets. Mosquitoes that carry chikungunya like to breed in these places.

  • Don't travel to areas with the virus if you have a condition that may make the illness worse.