Mosquitoes are irritating, and their bites can cause itchy welts on some people. Sometimes, though, they do more than that — they can pose a health risk. Mosquitoes can carry pathogens that may cause disease, and one of these illnesses is chikungunya.
This illness can be fairly common in certain parts of the world (not the United States), but its causes and symptoms may not be widely known.
What is Chikungunya?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there have been outbreaks of chikungunya in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The disease was first found in the Americas during an outbreak in the Caribbean in 2013. The Mayo Clinic also notes that, since the initial outbreak in 2013, more than 1.7 million suspected cases have been reported across the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States. All cases of chikungunya in the United States were acquired by travelers in areas where local transmission occurs. There have been no reported cases of local transmission in the U.S.
Mosquitoes Associated With Chikungunya
The chikungunya virus is primarily spread by two species of mosquitoes: The yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito. Both species of mosquitoes are also known for spreading dengue fever, and they can feed during the day and night.
The yellow fever mosquito originated in Africa but has been present in the United States for centuries. These mosquitoes are commonly found in tropical regions but can move to more temperate areas during the summer months. In the United States, they are most commonly found in the Southeast. They live in close proximity to humans and breed in containers like flower pots, drainage ditches and untreated swimming pools. However, though this species of mosquito is found in the U.S., it’s important to remember that chikungunya is not present in the U.S.
The Asian tiger mosquito was first found in the United States in Texas in 1985. Today, it is found in 26 states, including the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. It lives in subtropical and temperate regions, and it can survive in cooler temperatures than the yellow fever mosquito can. It also breeds in and around standing water and containers. However, though this species of mosquito is also found in the U.S., it’s important to remember that chikungunya is not present in the U.S.
Chikungunya is spread through the bite of an infected female mosquito. In order for the mosquito to become a vector, or capable of spreading illness, the disease must be present in its saliva.
Symptoms usually appear in 4–8 days following the bite of an infected mosquito, but the exact timing can range anywhere from 2–12 days. The virus can be found in the blood and passed from a human to a mosquito for the first week of the infection.
Though rare, chikungunya can be spread from mother to child at birth.
Chikungunya symptoms are similar to those of dengue fever. Most commonly, patients will experience fever and joint pain, but other symptoms include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and rash.
Typically, chikungunya symptoms are mild, and the CDC reports that most patients recover within a week. In some cases, however, joint pain may persist for months. Once a person recovers, he or she is likely to be immune to future infections.
Deaths from chikungunya are very rare, but in some cases, there may be eye, neurological or heart complications. Newborns, adults over age 65 and those with pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease are at higher risk for severe disease.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for chikungunya, and the CDC recommends treating the symptoms. People with chikungunya should get plenty of rest and fluids to help prevent dehydration. And the CDC says that acetaminophen or paracetamol can be used to reduce fever, but medications like aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) should be avoided.
If you suspect you have symptoms of chikungunya, especially if you have traveled to an area experiencing an outbreak, the Mayo Clinic suggests seeing your health care provider. Your doctor may order blood tests to check for chikungunya or other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and Zika.
Mosquito Bite Prevention
There are several steps you can take to help control mosquitoes around your property, which can help you avoid bites. These steps include:
- Eliminating sources of standing water, including tires, birdbaths and kiddie pools
- Keeping rain gutters clean
- Wearing long sleeves and pants when outdoors
- Using an mosquito repellent recommended by the CDC
- Consulting a professional pest control service, if needed