Like West Nile virus, Chikungunya is transmitted by mosquitoes and can cause flu-like symptoms, but there are a couple of differences between the two. West Nile virus made its way to the U.S. in 1999 and has spread across the country since then. Chikungunya has just recently arrived to the U.S. Thus far, the virus had been spread by travelers from the Caribbean, but it has recently been reported that the virus has spread locally in Florida.
Chikungunya is rarely fatal, but it is characterized as being extremely painful. The symptoms occur within about three days of being bitten and include pain in the muscles and joints, high fever and fatigue. The sickness usually passes in about a week, but the pain can last for weeks and sometimes months.
West Nile virus, on the other hand, sometimes occurs without any symptoms being present. A large majority of people who contract West Nile virus do not know that they have been infected. For about a fifth of the people who contract the virus, however, the symptoms can be severe. These symptoms can be similar to those of Chikungunya and include fever and headaches as well as occasional eye pain and rashes. For a smaller number of people, about one percent, West Nile virus can be very serious. In this group, people can experience a serious infection in the brain. which can cause severe pain, convulsions, muscle weakness, very high fever, excruciating headaches and confusion.
While both Chikungunya and the West Nile virus are transmitted by mosquitoes, there are some differences here, too. Mosquitoes that transmit Chikungunya typically bite during the day, while mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus usually strike at night. There is also a difference in how the viruses are spread. West Nile spreads from mosquitoes who have bitten infected birds or animals and then bite humans. Chikungunya is spread when a mosquito bites an infected person, which in turn infects the mosquito and passes the virus on to the next person it bites.
Whether West Nile or Chikungunya, most people do not relish the idea of being bitten by a mosquito. Therefore it is important to take precautions, especially during the summer months, to avoid mosquito bites. One way to avoid being bitten is to use insect repellent. Insect repellents containing DEET are oftenvery effective. If possible, people should avoid being outside during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are prevalent.
Another good way to protect against mosquito bites is to wear long clothing. Reducing the amount of exposed skin is always a good idea if wearing long-sleeved clothing is not an option. It is also good to sleep with air conditioning on or to use mosquito netting to reduce the possibility of getting bit. Finally, it is advisable to check around the home to make sure there are no pockets of standing water where mosquitoes can breed.
There are some similarities between West Nile virus and the relative newcomer, Chikungunya. Two of the most obvious similarities are the fact that both viruses are transmitted by mosquitoes and they can both cause health concerns. Most people would likely not welcome contracting either disease but it could be helpful, in the event of being infected, to know the differences between West Nile virus and Chikungunya.
By Constance Spruill