Chikungunya

This viral infection occurs in some tropical and subtropical regions of the world, predominantly transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito Chikungunya

 

 

Key Messages

Chikungunya is a viral infection transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.
The disease occurs mainly in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It has spread significantly in recent decades and is now a major global health problem.
Chikungunya is relatively rare in UK travellers although it is likely to become more common as a result of increased international spread.
The symptoms typically include high fever, severe joint pains, muscle pains, headaches and skin rashes.
Chikungunya is rarely fatal and although it tends to resolve after 1-2 weeks,many patients develop long-term joint pain.
Travellers should be aware of where outbreaks are occurring prior to travel and reduce the risk of acquiring chikungunya by taking bite prevention measures. There is no vaccine currently available to prevent chikungunya.

Overview

Chikungunya is a viral infection predominantly transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. The disease occurs in some tropical and subtropical regions of the world and in recent decades has emerged as major a global health problem following increasing international spread. The chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is an alphavirus that was first isolated following an outbreak in Tanzania in the 1950s [1]. The term chikungunya is derived from the Makonde language of Tanzania and means, “that which bends up”, referring to the severe joint pains that occur as part of the infection [2]. Typically symptoms include fever, joint pain, muscle pain, rash and headache. The disease usually resolves in one to two weeks and, although rarely fatal, joint pain may persist for months or years [3].

Risk areas

In the latter half of the twentieth century, chikungunya predominantly occurred at relatively low levels in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and Africa[3]. The mosquitoes responsible for the transmission of CHIKV (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) have a wide distribution particularly throughout tropical and subtropical areas and, in recent years, have also been found in parts of Europe and the USA. Infected travellers have the potential to introduce CHIKV to new areas of the globe [4, 5], and in recent decades this potential has been realised with a number of very large international outbreaks affecting millions of people in areas not previously experiencing chikungunya. These outbreaks have affected areas including: Indian Ocean islands, India,the Pacific islands, the Caribbean, Central America and South America [3, 6, 7].

Importantly a number of smaller outbreaks have also occurred in temperate European countries (Italy and France)[8, 9]. Although these outbreaks were small, they highlight the potential for global spread outside the tropics and subtropics.

As the risk areas are constantly evolving travellers visiting countries where chikungunya is known to have occurredor has the potential to occur should check the latest information on outbreaks prior to travel. Current outbreaks of chikungunya are recorded in the Outbreak Surveillance section of our website.

A record of countries where CHIKV has occurred is also available on the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC) website.

Risk for travellers

Travellers visiting areas experiencing on-going outbreaks are at risk of acquiring chikungunya. Epidemics occur predominantly in the rainy season of tropical countries although seasons may vary in different regions. The mosquitoes responsible for transmission of CHIKV are predominantly day biting mosquitoes [10, 11]. The presence of natural and man-made containers that serve as breeding sites for Aedes mosquitoes, around human habitation is a risk factor for chikungunya transmission [10, 11].

Chikungunya in UK travellers

Before 2014 the majority of cases reported in the UK were acquired in the Indian Ocean islands, South and South East Asia and Africa[12]. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 295 individual cases of chikungunya infection were reported by the Public Health England (PHE) in 2014, more than a 12-fold increase compared to 2013 (24 cases) [12]. Eighty eight percent of these had travelled to the Caribbean and South America [12].

Transmission

CHIKV is transmitted predominantly through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito. These mosquitoes are active through the day and tend to bite just after sunrise and just before sunset[10, 11]. Aedes aegypti tend to reside in close proximity to human dwellings in urban areas and often bite indoors [10]; they tend to bite humans rather than animals [5]. Aedes albopictus are active in urban, peri-urban and rural areas as well as near to forested areas;they bite both indoors and outdoors, but prefer outdoors [11]. Aedes albopictus bite humans and a wide variety of animals, allowing the mosquito to transmit CHIKV between animals and humans.

In Africa CHIKV is transmitted between Aedes mosquitoes and non-human primates or small mammals in forested areas, creating an animal reservoir [3]. Outbreaks in Africa are frequently associated with heavy rainfall, when mosquito populations increase and spread of CHIKV from animals in forested areas to humans in nearby dwellings is more likely [3, 5]. During epidemics, CHIKV can circulate between human beings and mosquitoes without the need for an animal reservoir. In contrast, transmission in Asia seems to occur predominantly between humans and Aedes mosquitoes in urban locations [3].

Signs and symptoms

It may take typically between 4 and 8 days for the first symptoms to develop, but it can be shorter or longer in some people. Onset of the disease is characterised by sudden onset of high fever, severe arthralgia (joint pains) and myalgia (muscle pains), with associated headaches, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and skin rashes [3]. Some people can be infected with CHIKV without developing symptoms although this appears to be relatively rare.

Arthralgia is commonly the most disabling symptom and tends to affect multiple joints, particularly the extremities (ankles, wrists and hands), but it may affect any joint[3, 13]. The infection tends to resolve after one to two weeks however in some patients, joint pains may persist for months or even years causing long-term disability [3]. Up to 12 percent of individuals have persistent joint pains after three years [13]. Occasional cases of eye, neurological and heart complications have been reported, as well as gastrointestinal complaints, but serious complications are rare [3]. Chikungunya is rarely fatal, (approximately one in every 1000 cases). Those at highest risk of dying include young babies, the elderly and adults with underlying health problems [3].

Diagnosis and treatment

CHIKV infection is suspected when typical clinical symptoms occur in a person who has visited or resided in a known risk area, particularly when an outbreak is on-going. The diagnosis can be confirmed by detecting the presence of the virus or antibodies to the virus in the patient’s blood.In the UK, appropriate samples (including a full clinical and travel history with relevant dates) from suspected cases should be sent to the PHE Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory.

No specific antiviral treatment is currently recommended and patients are treated with rest, hydration and medications for pain and fever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be helpful in alleviating symptoms.

Preventing chikungunya

Health professionals should be aware of where CHIKV outbreaks are occurring to enable appropriate pre-travel counselling. Travellers should seek advice from a health professional prior to travel and may reduce the risk of acquiring chikungunya by taking bite prevention measures. Particular vigilance with bite precautions should be taken around dawn and dusk and if possible natural or man-made water filled containers likely to serve as mosquito breeding sites should be removed. There is no vaccine currently available to prevent chikungunya.

First Published :   05 May 2015
Last Updated :   20 May 2016

  1. Ross RW. The Newala epidemic. III. The virus: isolation, pathogenic properties and relationship to the epidemic. J Hyg (Lond). 1956; 54(2): 177-91.
  2. Robinson MC. An epidemic of virus disease in Southern Province, Tanganyika Territory, in 1952-53. I. Clinical features. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 1955; 49(1): 28-32.
  3. Burt FJ, Rolph MS, Rulli NE, et al. Chikungunya: a re-emerging virus. Lancet. 2012; 379(9816): 662-71.
  4. Benedict MQ, Levine RS, Hawley WA, et al. Spread of the tiger: global risk of invasion by the mosquito Aedes albopictus. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2007; 7(1): 76-85.
  5. Higa Y. Dengue Vectors and their Spatial Distribution. Trop Med Health. 2011; 39(4 Suppl): 17-27.
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  7. Johansson MA. Chikungunya on the move. Trends Parasitol. 2015; 31(2): 43-5.
  8. Rezza G, Nicoletti L, Angelini R, et al. Infection with chikungunya virus in Italy: an outbreak in a temperate region. Lancet. 2007; 370(9602): 1840-6.
  9. World Health Organisation. Global Alert and Response (GAR)- Chikungunya – France. 2014. [Accessed 5th May 2015]
  10. Centre for Disease Control (CDC). Dengue and the Aedes aegypti mosquito. 2012. [Accessed 5th May 2015]
  11. Centre for Disease Control (CDC). Dengue and the Aedes albopictus mosquito. 2012. [Accessed 5th May 2015]
  12. Public Health England. Chikungunya in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: 2014. 2015.
  13. Caglioti C, Lalle E, Castilletti C, et al. Chikungunya virus infection: an overview. New Microbiol. 2013; 36(3): 211-27.

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