What is chikungunya fever? Should I be worried about traveling with my family?

Answers from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.

Chikungunya (chik-un-GUN-yuh) is a virus transmitted by mosquitoes that causes the sudden onset of fever and severe joint pain. Other signs and symptoms may include fatigue, muscle pain, headache and rash. Signs and symptoms of chikungunya usually appear two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

No vaccine exists to prevent chikungunya virus, and there's no effective antiviral treatment. However, the disease runs a limited course and is very rarely fatal. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms with rest, fluids and medications — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) — to relieve joint pain and fever.

Where is it found?

Chikungunya virus is usually thought of as a tropical disease because, until recently, it was found only in Africa, Asia and India. But since 2007, outbreaks have been reported in Italy, France, Croatia and on islands in the Caribbean.

As of April 2015, nearly 1.4 million suspected cases of chikungunya have been reported in the Caribbean islands, in Latin American countries, and in the United States. Canada and Mexico also have reported cases of infection.

How concerned should I be?

Most people recover fully, with symptoms resolving in seven to 10 days. For some people, joint pain may continue for weeks or, rarely, months. Death from chikungunya is very rare, but the virus sometimes causes severe complications, mostly in older adults. People who have been infected once are likely to be protected from future infections.

If you're traveling to an area with known outbreaks of chikungunya virus, take precautions. Because chikungunya is not transmitted from human to human, preventive measures are focused on protection from infected mosquitoes. Use insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay indoors or in screened-in places when possible.

If you are an older adult or have a condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, you're at increased risk of severe disease. Consider avoiding travel to areas with ongoing chikungunya outbreaks.

When should I see a doctor?

See your doctor if you think you or a family member may have chikungunya, especially if you have recently traveled to an area where there's an ongoing outbreak. Your doctor may order blood tests to look for chikungunya or similar diseases. If you are sick with chikungunya, avoiding new mosquito bites will help prevent the virus from spreading.

Dec. 30, 2015 See more Expert Answers