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The Chikungunya Virus: A Q&A with Leonard Mermel, DO

6/19/2014

Rhode Island recently reported its first two cases of a mosquito-transmitted disease, Chikungunya. The virus has been spreading in the Caribbean and several cases have been documented in the U.S. during the last few months. As we prepare for West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) season, it’s important to also be aware of the Chikungunya virus.

Mosquito smallWe spoke with our infectious diseases expert, Leonard Mermel, DO, medical director of the department of epidemiology and infection control at Rhode Island Hospital, about this virus.

Here’s what he had to say:

Do we need to be worried about Chikungunya here in New England, and if so, what can we do to protect ourselves?

The mosquito that transmits this virus is not normally found in this area. If you’re planning to travel to the Caribbean, you should check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to find out where it is spreading. This way you can be prepared and take appropriate insect repellent for skin, and consider treating clothes with permethrin, depending on your expected level of exposure to mosquitoes.

What are the signs and symptoms of Chikunguna? Is it fatal?

It is rarely fatal, but there are a few symptoms associated with Chikungunya, such as bilateral joint pains (i.e., usually symmetric on both sides of body) and high fever. It also can be associated with widespread rash and non-specific symptoms such as nausea, fatigue and muscle aches. Muscle and joint pains can last for a long time, particularly in older people.

Can it be treated at home, or should we go to our doctor or the emergency department if we start showing any of the symptoms?

This really depends on the person and the severity of symptoms. If your symptoms are getting worse, then you should seek medical attention. Researchers are working on a vaccine for this illness, but none are FDA approved at the present time.

For more information on Chikungunya, visit the CDC website http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/