A new study suggests that the mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya can cause not only severe pain and fever, but also encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain, and in some cases it may even lead to death.
In the study – published November 25 in the journal Neurology – the researchers analysed an epidemic of the chikungunya virus on Reunion Island, which is located in the Indian Ocean and situated east of Madagascar. During this epidemic that lasted from 2005 to 2006, about 300,000 people contracted the virus. Of these people, 24 developed encephalitis and four of them died from the infection.
Infants younger than one and adults ages 65 and older were the most prone to develop encephalitis after getting infected with the chikungunya virus, according to the researchers.
Dr. Patrick Gérardin, of Central University Hospital in Saint Pierre, Reunion Island, said that in this case the encephalitis rates in these age categories were much higher than the encephalitis rates in the United States among people in those age groups.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the chikungunya virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, and that the most common symptoms of an infection include joint pain, joint swelling, fever, muscle pain, and rash. Although most people are able to recover within a week, some may continue to have symptoms of the infection for months or even years, researchers stated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no medicine to treat the infection and no vaccine to prevent chikungunya. To treat the infection, people are usually given painkillers and drugs that reduce fever. Dr. Gérardin says that if people develop arthritis because of the infection, they have to take anti-inflammatory medications.
Countries in Asia and Africa have also experienced outbreaks of chikungunya in the past.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, as of September 2015, there had been more than 7 thousand cases of chikungunya in Mexico.
Dr. Gérardin advises people who live in these areas, as well as those who want to travel to these areas to take precautionary measures which include long pants, and long-sleeved clothing, as well as insect repellent.
So far, there have been 571 cases of chikungunya reported this year in 42 U.S. states. According to a new statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 196 cases have been reported in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico.
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