Chikungunya fever is a tropical virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes and occurs mainly in India, Southeast Asia and Africa. The term chikungunya means "the crooked" and is due to the severe joint pain that is a typical symptom of the disease. Despite the sometimes high fever, the disease is usually harmless and heals without therapy by itself. A vaccine against the Chikungunya virus does not yet exist - the best prevention is therefore the mosquito repellent in the risk areas.
Distribution in southern regions
The Chikungunya virus occurs in the saliva of the yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito and is transmitted to humans through the bite of the mosquito. Because these mosquito species are found in warm regions, Chikungunya fever occurs predominantly in the southern countries of the world - including in the following risk areas:
- Southeast Asia: Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia
- India and Sri Lanka
- Arabian Peninsula
- Indian Ocean islands: La Réunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles
- Africa: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Tanzania
However, outbreaks of the disease are occasionally also observed in Southern Europe. For example, the Asian tiger mosquito has also been found in Italy since the early 1990s, causing the virus to spread there again and again. Meanwhile, the mosquito in almost the whole of southern Europe and in Germany, cases are not excluded.
Epidemic in South America
In December 2013, there was a Chikungunya epidemic in the Caribbean, which infected over 800, 000 people within a year. Thus, the virus was also spread in the US and in South American countries - were affected, inter alia, Cuba, Costa Rica and Colombia.
Symptoms include fever and joint pain
After infection with the Chikungunya virus by the mosquito bite symptoms appear after about five to ten days. It then comes to fever episodes up to 40 ° C with chills, headache and body aches.
Characteristic of the Chikungunya fever, however, are severe joint pain that occur especially on the arms and legs. The affected joints are swollen and touch-sensitive. In addition, conjunctivitis and rash may be added.
Chikungunya: Hard course rare
Usually, the symptoms of Chikungunya fever disappear on their own after about seven to ten days. In rare cases, however, joint pain may last for months or even years. Then it is not uncommon to make the diagnosis of rheumatic arthritis.
Also rare is a so-called hemorrhagic course: It comes through the virus itself or by the triggered in the body inflammatory response to damage to blood vessels and a disruption of blood clotting.
Then bleeding is possible, which can be fatal in exceptional cases - such as in children or the elderly. After a surviving infection, there is lifelong immunity to the virus.
Differentiation to malaria and dengue fever
The diagnosis of Chikungunya fever can be quite difficult, because similar symptoms can be found in other travel illnesses such as malaria or dengue fever.
Particularly important is the delimitation to malaria, because in contrast to the Chikungunya virus, there are effective against the pathogens of malaria drugs. But the distinction between dengue fever is also significant, because this disease can lead to more severe hemorrhagic or even fatal cases.
Diagnostics: virus detection in the blood
The diagnosis therefore requires a thorough medical history - in particular, the mention of stays in high-risk areas is important for the doctor in order to assess the probability of infection with the Chikungunya virus.
If Chikungunya fever is suspected, the diagnosis can be made by a blood test. The virus itself or antibodies to the virus in the blood are detected.
Only symptomatic therapy
So far, there are no drugs against the Chikungunya virus. Therefore, the therapy is limited to a relief of the symptoms:
- Fever reduction with active ingredients such as acetaminophen or acetylsalicylic acid
- Anti-inflammatory analgesics such as ibuprofen or diclofenac
- Sufficient intake of fluid and minerals to compensate for their loss from the fever
Vaccination not yet possible
There is no vaccine against Chikungunya fever yet - but a vaccine is currently under development. The only way to prevent an infection with the Chikungunya virus is therefore a consistent protection against mosquito bites.
So, if you're in a high-risk area, be sure to wear long clothes and use repellents. In addition, you should avoid stagnant water and other places where there are especially many mosquitoes, if possible.