Many of you out there probably have no idea what Chikungunya is. It’s ok, I had no clue what it was until I moved to Puerto Rico last year. Recently, the virus has gotten some coverage in the United States, because Lindsey Lohan got infected while she was vacationing in Bora Bora. So, why don’t we begin with answering some key questions:
WHAT IS CHIKUNGUNYA?
- A viral disease transmitted to humans by infected mosquitos
- There are two species of mosquitoes of the genus Aedes: A. albopictus and A. aegypto that carry the virus
- The infected mosquitos often bite throughout daylight hours outside
- After bitten by an infected mosquito, illness often occurs usually between four to eight days later
- The first outbreak was reported in Tanzania in 1952
- “Chikungunya” derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning ‘to become contorted‘ and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
- Causes fever, severe joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, very itchy rash (see photo below), and fatigue
- Joint pain is often very debilitating and can persist for several months, or even years
- Inflammation of the eyes may occur
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT?
- There is no cure for this virus, only treatment to relieve the symptoms
- There is no commercial Chikungunya vaccine
WHERE DOES CHIKUNGUNYA OCCUR?
- The mosquito-borne virus can be found in nearly 40 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and also in the Americas
WHAT WAS MY EXPERIENCE?
- Started showing symptoms on October 11, 2014. After researching, I discovered that the infected mosquitos like to be closer to the forest than by the ocean (where I worked and lived). With that information, I assumed I was infected the week before when I had a friend visiting me in Puerto Rico. We traveled to El Yunque Rainforest, went zip-lining in Toro Verde, and also went to Oktobeerfest which was close to Toro Verde up in the mountains as well.
- My first symptom was red spots all over my body on October 10th. I thought that I had gotten a rash from something in the ocean… it was very strange. It didn’t itch or anything though.
- The next day I woke up with severe joint pain, a fever, and felt very nauseous. I almost fainted when I got out of bed, and I could barely walk 4 feet to my bathroom my joints hurt so badly.
- I still went to work, walked an hour to get there along the beach. I didn’t have a car in Puerto Rico, and my boss was out of town who usually was able to give me rides, so I knew the only way I could get to the hospital was for someone from security at the Ritz to take me.
- When I finally got to the hospital, I got my blood drawn and a shot in my tush and spoke with the doctor who said it looked like I had Chikungunya, or it could be Dengue. He wasn’t too helpful to be honest.
- The rash came back with vengeance over the next couple of days. It covered my whole body – and some extremely itchy no matter what anti-itch ointment was used. VERY IRRITATING especially paired up with the severe joint pain in my knees, ankle, foot joints as well as my shoulders, elbows, wrists, and finger joints. I honestly couldn’t lift a glass of water sometimes, or open a door handle, or even walk without holding on to something to keep me up.
- I decided to go to a different emergency care facility to get help for the rash. The doctor there was much more helpful, and after blood tests she confirmed that it was Chikungunya and then prescribed me some drugs for my stomach and the joint pain. Apparently, the virus has some affects on your stomach, even though I didn’t really have any, I took the meds just in case. She didn’t prescribe anything for the rash – just said to pick up Benadryl from the pharmacy (which still didn’t work).
- Doctors orders were rest at home and drink lots of fluids for a week before I could go back to work.
- The joint pain has been constant for the last 3 months. The pain was worse in the mornings, sometimes it affected my sleeping habits. Chikungunya can stay in your system for up to 2 years, so I was really crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t have this pain for that long. I am a very active person, so this has been a very difficult process for me.
- As I enter my 4th month (February 2015) with the virus, the only joint pain I still get are in some of my finger/hand joints when I wake up in the morning. The pain usually dissipates throughout the day though, which is good. I am able to start working out again – short runs and yoga – and not be in pain.