With the current outbreak of chikungunya and viral fever in several parts of the country, it is about time we put some thought into the adage that prevention is better than cure. Both the diseases strike without a warning, and have reached epidemic proportions. With a jump in the number of cases landing up at hospitals and clinics for checkups and tests, we've listed facts to help you figure out quickly if you might have fallen victim to chikungunya.
What is chikungunya?
Chikungunya is a viral infection transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) or Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito). The virus is said to have originated from Central/ East Africa. It is also referred to as "the illness of the bended walker" in reference to the hunched posture developed due to the acute joint and muscular pain caused by the disease. Infecting the muscle cells of the body, this virus has been listed as an emerging global health threat.
Being a systemic infection, chikungunya has mild to severe symptoms. It is usually accompanied by an abrupt onset of high fever, joint/muscular pain, skin rash or swelling, followed by sore throat, headache, heightened cough and fatigue. Even though the disease does not often result in death, the symptoms can be alarmingly severe and disabling.
How chikungunya symptoms differ from normal viral fever
- Differentiating symptoms of chikungunya: Signs include fever with severe pain and/or swelling in the joints (hands, feet, ankles and wrists), headache, muscular weakness and inability to walk.
- Symptoms of normal viral fever: There may be low or high fever which is irregular in nature and occurs along with chills and aches. At times it is followed by sore throat or congestion. A viral infection spreads easily from person to person and can affect anybody in any age group. Apart from consuming prescribed medication, drinking lots of fluids, herbal teas, warm soothing food like soup and khichdi help in healing viral fever.
Testing for chikungunya
The incubation period of the chikungunya virus is 1 to 12 days. The infection can be confirmed by the easy detection of a particular virus in the patient's blood. The diagnosis is based on signs and symptoms confirmed with a specific blood test called ELISA or Antibody tests (IgG, IgM); it requires quite a bit of blood and is generally conducted after the first week of symptom onset. Further, this test requires two-three days and is very specific with minimum cross-reactivity to the related virus family. There is also a common laboratory tests named RT-PCR which is to be done within the first seven days of the illness and the result is available within a day or two.
Missed diagnosis area
Chikungunya infection has similar symptoms to dengue fever since both the diseases are transmitted by the same Aedes mosquito. This makes it difficult to diagnose the difference in the beginning. A blood test is the only way to make sure.
Note: A single exposure to chikungunya provides immunity to it (in contrast to dengue where you only become immune to the strain you are affected by).
With the current rising outbreak having resulted in greater awareness about these diseases, people and health workers can now avoid serious misdiagnosis, complications and consequences.
Treatment and prevention
Unfortunately, there is still no vaccine for chikungunya but personal protection does go a long way in preventing the illness. Chikungunya mosquitoes are said to be active during the daytime, so it is advisable that to wear long-sleeved clothes or use mosquito repellents to prevent bites.
For those infected by the virus, a proper blood test for accurate diagnosis is the first step towards recovery. There is no medicine specifically for the illness, but the use of pain medication along with plenty of rest can provide relief. It is critical that a chikungunya patient be kept under quarantine to prevent mosquito bites, as an infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
Vitamin C and and E have many antioxidant properties, which makes food rich in them ideal to consume while fighting off infections, inflammation and pain. A healthy dosage of this food flushes toxins from the body.