What Is The Chikungunya Virus - The Disease From Hell
When we got the Chikungunya
It was a normal day like any other in the month of September 2014. We’d gone to get tiles for the house. When my feet started to ache, I jokingly reminded myself of the days when I was able to stand on my feet all day without feeling much pain. I quickly found a chair in the store as we waited for our transactions to clear. I also noticed my mom grimacing as she sat in the chair the attendant gave her.
By the following morning my mom was in pain and both my feet were sore. We thought the previous days’ activities had caused this severe soreness so we went about our business. I took my mom to her diabetic clinic and while talking to her I noticed how warm her hands were, but she insisted she was fine.
By that Thursday evening she had a very high fever and I was feeling less than myself. Her pain was so severe that she could not change her own clothes and she could barely walk. By midnight I was in severe pain in my muscles and joints and a fever was coming on.
The chikungunya virus first attacks the most vulnerable joints and in our case it was our feet. Our feet would have already been sore from extended walking and standing. For some it starts with the fingers and hands. The pain was so severe it felt like someone pierced my knees with a Rambo knife! The joints became sore and inflamed, like arthritis and the more I moved around the the worse the pain got.
What is the Chikungunya Virus?
Chikungunya is a viral disease that is spread by the Aedes Egypti or the Aedes Albopictus mosquito. The disease is spread when the mosquito bites an infected person then passes on the infection to another through its bite. The mosquito is only a vector and not the source.
Like the flu, the chikungunya symptoms (such as aches and fever) will last anywhere between three days and two weeks. However, there are lingering effects such as joints pains which will not go away anytime soon.
The Aedes Albopictus mosquito also spreads the virus that causes dengue fever.
Where did it come from?
The virus was first detected in Makonde, Africa in 1952. It is believed that the origin of this disease is in East Africa where the virus circulates between the forest mosquitoes and animals. In this region, there are not many human dwellings so the illness is not as widespread in human as in the communities.
In the forest, there seems to be a continual cycle in the spread between animals and mosquitoes.
How Chikungunya got its name
In the land of Makonde the people speak Makonde. Their word for “what bends up” is chikungunya. In Swahili, this word means “the illness of the bended walker". However, the term did not originate in Swahili but in Makonde. The term derived from the way people would walk in a sort of stooped position when the illness affects their joints.
Chikungunya virus symptoms
The symptoms of the Chikungunya virus are:
- Very painful joints (not like you’ve experienced before), that may last for months or years after first contracting the virus. You may also encounter swelling of the affected areas. If you are arthritic you may have a more severe reaction to this disease which will debilitate you somewhat.
- Fever, can be mild to severe and must be taken care of as soon as possible.
- May also cause flu like symptoms (not always).
- Headache in some persons. If you have migraines beware as you are likely to suffer headaches during the period of illness.
- Loss of appetite in some
- Diarrhea or vomiting in some
- Mild to severe rash with itching. Up t 50% of the persons who contract this disease experience some form of rash. It may be an isolated area or the entire body. This rash usually disappears within a few days.
People most affected by the chikungunya disease
Pregnant women in their final few weeks of pregnancy should be careful not to contract this disease as their unborn child may be born with the virus.
Persons with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are especially vulnerable as the virus affects them more than healthier persons. People with these illnesses will/may experience severe symptoms of the virus.
Newborns and elderly person should be extra careful as well, as they are more at risk of being infected due to weaker immune systems.
It is recommended that persons affected by the chikungunya disease get plenty of rest. Unlike the flu, physical activity makes you feel worse. The pain caused by this virus is exacerbated by exercise. Be careful for the first few days of the illness that you do not overexert yourself.
Dehydration occurs frequently in patients with this illness because of the constant low grade fever for the first few days which can last up to one week. You may feel fine on the outside but still having an increased internal temperature which can cause you to dehydrate. Drink plenty of fluids.
If you experience prolonged muscle or joint paints pay your doctor or the nearest health center a visit. This prolonged pain may be caused by inflammation in the joints and muscles.
If you aren’t sure that you have chikungunya, it is recommended that you not take painkillers with aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs. This is due to that increased risk of bleeding, especially if you have caught the dengue fever. Dengue symptoms and chikungunya are quite similar so you must be sure of what you have before taking any drugs. It is best to consult your health care provider before taking any medications at all.
The chikungunya virus cannot be cured and must run its course as with any virus.
Virus Chikungunya prevention
The virus Chikungunya is spread by mosquitoes that bite during the daytime. Getting rid of the mosquitoes from your surroundings is the best measure for keeping healthy. Remember that mosquitoes spread other diseases as well. You can reduce the risk of getting the disease by doing the following:
- Cover water containers(tanks, barrels, drums) that are stored outdoors and treat them with bleach to prevent breeding.
- Get rid of any container that may catch and store water unknowingly such as old pots, cans, tires and bottles. These are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
- Keep garbage containers covered at all times.
- Punch holes in cans before throwing them in the garbage.
- Change water in vases frequently and keep flower pot saucers free of water. Or, keep indoor plant in moist soil instead of water.
- Change animal water cans frequently.
Preventing mosquito bites
- Use repellants containing DEET on skin
- Wear long sleeves and long pants: cover up as much as possible. It is also recommended to wear light colored clothing as dark clothing tend to attract mosquitoes.
- Using mosquito coils will help repel them but be careful not to place burning coil near fabric. Keep children away from the coil while it burns.
- Electric vaporization mats are highly recommended
- If possible screen windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes and other bugs from coming in.
- Use a mosquito net around cribs and beds.
The chikungunya virus may not be deadly but it is quite debilitating. It causes severe pain in many, especially the elderly which causes them to walk with a stoop. My mom was a victim and it became quite difficult for her to walk on the first day after contracting this virus.
It is believed that the virus will spread through the tropical region and has already affected several Caribbean countries. Jamaica is currently experiencing an outbreak in its eastern parishes and is rapidly spreading through the island.
Beware of scams
There are people claiming that they have the right treatment or cure for the Chik V, however this is not so. This is a viral disease, only vaccines work on viral diseases. Viruses must run their course before they leave their host, they cannot be cured.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Get time off from work to rest so you can recuperate quickly. The Ministry of Health in Jamaica said that the virus can remain up to three years in your system after the initial symptoms. You may experience joint and muscle pains for a long while afterwards.
Personal tips from experience
Keeping healthy and boosting the immune system is the best remedy. Here are a few tips to help you deal
- You will lose your appetite at some point but you must eat to keep your strength up.
- Take your daily vitamins and minerals as usual, this will help to boost the immune system.
- If possible, see your personal doctor. Health centers are overrun with patients and short staffed. You will not get the personal attention you need. Paracetamol or panadol only helps the fever but not the joint paint.
- Have your doctor confirm the disease with a blood test. This will help him to determine the line of treatment.
- Rest, rest and rest some more.
- Do not ice your aching joints or muscles, cold make it worse.
- Bathe in warm water
- Use baking soda in warm water to ease itching when you get the rash. Don’t use lotions, oils or creams when you get the rash, they will make it worse.
- IMPORTANT: Change bed clothing and night clothing (sleepwear) every morning for the first few days. We aren’t sure why, but we found that people who sleep in the same clothing and bedding during the illness take longer to recover. We believe it’s something to do with what is excreted in our sweat for the first few days.
- Drink lots of juice and clear fluids.
Complications from the Chikungunya
Though the disease itself is not fatal, you may develop complications from other illnesses you may have before. In Jamaica, several people have died due to complications developed as a result of contracting the Chik V.
- A teacher with the sickle cell disease died when he developed complications
- Another teacher with kidney disease saw rapid deterioration in kidney health after getting the virus.
- A 16 year old boy with a brain tumor also passed away after getting the virus.
It is believed that these people died due to the break down in their immune system.
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