Don’t let Chikungunya Virus bite into your holiday — your guide to locations, symptoms and protection

The tropical disease Chikungunya [pronounced: chik-en-gun-ye] Virus hit the headlines recently when celebrity Lindsay Lohan contracted the disease while holidaying in Bora Bora. After being diagnosed on her trip, Lindsay was hospitalized again upon her return home after suffering a relapse of symptoms. Later she took to Twitter to urge her fans to ‘use bug spray.’ 

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Symptoms of Chikungunya can include sudden high fever, severe joint pain and joint swelling as well as skin rashes. While most people may feel better within a week, others can develop longer-term joint pain lasting weeks or months. For those with existing medical conditions, young children, babies and the elderly, the disease can be severe.

But where exactly are the Chikungunya Virus hotspots? How is it transmitted? And importantly, what can you do to minimise risk of infection? Here’s what you need to know about the Chikungunya Virus...

What is Chikungunya Virus?

Chikungunya (CHIKV) is spread via a bite from an infected mosquito. Two particular types of mosquito spread the virus. The name ‘Chikungunya’ derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning "to become contorted" and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain (arthralgia).

How is Chikungunya Virus transmitted?

The virus is transmitted to humans by two particular types of infected biting mosquitoes. These are the female Aedes aegypti (Yellow Fever) and Aedes albopictus (Asian Tiger) mosquitoes. These are also the same mosquitoes which spread Dengue Fever, the symptoms of which can be very similar to CHIKV. Both of these species of mosquito are aggressive day biters. 

Asian Tiger mosquitoes are native to the tropics but they can easily adapt to temperate climates. They have been found across Europe, including Italy, Spain, Greece, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. They are also found in the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East. 

The Aedes aegypti (Yellow Fever) mosquito is the carrier of several tropical diseases. Commonly found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world, they can be present in more temperate areas in summer months, including the southern and eastern US.

The mosquitoes become vectors (carriers) of the disease by biting a human who is already infected with the disease. 

Who can be affected by Chikungunya Virus?

CHIKV isn’t choosy and anyone bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus is at risk. 

What are the symptoms of Chikungunya Virus?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) symptoms can appear between three and seven days of being bitten by an infected mosquito. The most common symptoms include sudden high fever and joint pain. However, other symptoms can include skin rashes, muscle pain, headache, and chronic joint pain and swelling often affecting the hands, wrists, ankles and feet. The latter can last months and, in rare cases, years.

Most people recover fully, however symptoms can be severe and debilitating, and complications can be dangerous for those with weak immune systems for example babies, young children and the elderly. 

How is Chikungunya Virus treated?

Currently there is no commercially available vaccine to prevent, or medicine to treat CHIKV. That’s why prevention of mosquito bites is so important. 

How can I protect against Chikungunya Virus?

When Lindsay Lohan contracted the virus in French Polynesia, she took to social media to urge her 8.7 million Twitter fans to ‘use bug spray.’ This advice has been mirrored by health experts who are advising travellers to take adequate precautions against the virus

Avoid mosquito bites by...

  • Covering exposed skin with long sleeves and trousers
  • Use a proven repellent making sure to apply it according to the instructions on the label
  • Apply a thin, even layer of repellent (on top of your sunscreen). 
  • Reapply if you are swimming or perspiring 
  • Use air-conditioning and /or door screens
  • Avoid areas of standing water 

Both of the species of Chikungunya carrying mosquitoes are ‘day-biters’ unlike other mosquitoes which tend to be active at dawn and/or dusk. With this in mind it’s important to opt for a long lasting repellent. 

Which insect repellents really work against Chikungunya Virus?

The CDC advises using mosquito repellents on exposed skin including DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 and some Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (also know as Citriodiol®) formulations. 

If you’re keen to avoid using DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide), a man-made, effective yet powerful chemical solvent widely used in many insect repellents, there are some natural alternatives that can protect you just as effectively. In trials, products formulated with Citriodiol®, the active ingredient in Mosi-guard Natural® derived from eucalyptus citriodora essential oil, demonstrated effective protection against the mosquitoes that transmit Chikungunya.

[Barnard, D. and Rui-De, X., Laboratory Evaluation of Mosquito Repellents Against Aedes albopictus, Culex nigripalpus, and Ochlerotatus triseriatus (Diptera: Culicidae), Journal of Medical Entomology, 41 (4): 726-730 (2004)]. 

2006 article by Dr. Scott Carroll and Dr. Jenella Loye, PMD, A Registered Botanical Mosquito Repellent with DEET-Like Efficacy, Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, 22(3): 507-514 (2006)

A review of 14 studies showed naturally derived Citriodiol® based repellents consistently provided complete protection for 5 - 7.8 hours against Ae. aegypti & Ae. albopictus mosquitoes. This closely matches higher concentrations of DEET and outperforms low concentrations of DEET. With that in mind Citriodiol® based products such as Mosi-guard Natural® can be considered an effective alternative to DEET-based products and ideal for those looking for natural protection.

Mosi-guard Natural® also contains the only naturally and sustainably sourced active ingredient recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so you can trust the fact that it really works. It is also suitable for use on adults and children from the age of six months.

Where is Chikungunya Virus found?

Chikungunya has been found in parts of Africa, Southern Europe, and Southeast Asia. It has also been found in islands located in the Indian and Pacific oceans. In 2013, the virus was reported for the first time in the Americas including countries such as Anguilla, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, and the Cayman Islands, as well as the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Saint Lucia.

Since then the unprecedented outbreak has also seen cases reported across 47 of America’s 50 states. As of January 2013, 420 cases had been reported in Florida and 688 cases reported in the State of New York. The CDC provides a map of territories affected by CHIKV which is updated on a weekly basis so do keep checking here if you are planning a trip. 

What should I do if I think I am at risk of Chikungunya Virus?

Always seek the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare practitioner. Be sure to also let your doctor know if you have recently travelled.