Here, in Singers, you’ve probably heard of dengue, and you may even know someone who’s suffered from it. But have you heard of chikungunya? Sure, it may have a funny-sounding name, but it’s no laughing matter to be bitten by the Aedes mosquito. We asked family physician, Dr. June Tan of International Medical Clinic, for all the DEETs on this lesser-known, mosquito-borne virus.
What exactly is chikungunya and how’s it different from dengue?
Chikungunya fever is a viral illness transmitted by the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. Chikungunya and dengue are both Aedes mosquito-borne viral illnesses, and symptoms are almost identical, but blood tests can tell them apart. Unlike dengue, chikungunya is rarely fatal.
That’s a relief. Are there many cases of chikungunya in Singapore?
Yes, there are many cases indeed. Chikungunya was unknown in Singapore until as recently as 2008, when the first case was reported. It has since been on the rise, with a record 900 cases reported last year alone. Incidentally, the year 2013 witnessed an unprecedented dengue epidemic with over 20,000 cases here in Singapore.
What about other countries in the region?
Chikungunya is endemic in most countries in South and Southeast Asia, including India.
What are the symptoms and how long do they normally last?
The most common symptoms of chikungunya are fever and joint pain, though headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, joint swelling and rashes can occur as well. Most patients feel better within one or two weeks but, for some, joint pain may persist for months and can be debilitating.
So, what are the available treatment options?
There’s no treatment to “cure” a person of chikungunya – like many viral diseases, it’s self-limiting and resolves on its own. Treatment is directed at relieving symptoms, and includes getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids to prevent dehydration and taking medications like paracetamol and ibuprofen to relieve fever and pain.
Can the illness be spread?
If someone in your household has chikungunya, the virus can be passed to another mosquito through bites during the first week of illness. The infected mosquito can, in turn, transmit the virus to others. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes during the first week of illness.
Though the virus is very rarely fatal, it’s still useful to take note that certain high-risk groups of people – newborn babies, the elderly and with medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease, for example – may be more susceptible to severe illness.
Since there’s currently no vaccine against chikungunya, it’s important to protect yourself and your loved ones from mosquito bites. Here are some tips on effective mosquito repellent and keeping your home from becoming a mosquito-breeding site, and your body infection-free.
- Empty standing water from flowerpots and buckets
- Change the water in vases on alternate days, and change the water in pet dishes regularly
- Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when not in use
- Clear blockages and place larvicide in roof gutters
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin when outdoors (note that the mosquitoes that spread the virus bite mostly during the daytime)
- When the weather permits, wear long sleeves and long pants; clothing can be treated with permethrin, an effective repellent
Dr. Judy Tan
International Medical Clinic
1 Orchard Boulevard, #14-06 Camden Medical Centre