Lindsay Lohan's Diagnosis: Chikungunya
The mosquito-born viral disease has been exploding worldwide and can knock you flat; preventing mosquito bites is key
If you're one of actress Lindsay Lohan's nearly 9 million Twitter followers, you already know: The actress is now reporting a very bad time with a nasty viral disease called Chikungunya (pronounced chik-en-gun-ye).
According to tweets, she caught the mosquito-borne disease while vacationing in Bora Bora, but she partied on. More recently, however, the bug continued to plague her and she ended up in a London hospital, according to press reports, probably for joint pain. She's out again now.
Symptoms can be miserable indeed, including fever, severe joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, headache and rash.
Sometimes it takes a celebrity to shine a light on an emerging threat — which public health officials warn Chikungunya is. The disease has been exploding globally since 2004, warns Roger Nasci, PhD, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Arboviral Diseases Branch and an expert in mosquito-borne diseases. "Once it gets established in an area, it can move very quickly," he says.
First described in southern Tanzania in 1952, the disease only recently gained a foothold in the Americas. "Since December, 2013, we have seen a massive explosion in Chikungunya in the Americas," Nasci tells us. "It's now in 43 countries in the Americas."
Before that, he says, ''we had only seen travelers bring Chikungunya back to the Americas." Then, in late 2013, the Caribbean island of St. Martin reported the first locally transmitted case, he says. Experts say a traveler brought it in. Local mosquitoes then became infected and bit the residents.
In 2014, more than 2,300 U.S. residents had Chikungunya disease, according to CDC reports. However, all but 11 of those people were travelers who brought it back to the states. The 11 locally infected all were in Florida. As of today, Chikungunya has been reported in such popular vacation spots as Mexico, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Belize and Puerto Rico.
Chikungunya means "to become contorted" in the local Tanzanian language. That's because one of the symptoms, joint pain, can be so bad it causes people to stiffen up.
How do you catch it — and what’s the cure?
Two species of infected mosquitoes can transmit the virus with their bite. They are often daytime biters and can be found outdoors or indoors. Once you’re bitten, you can start to feel sick anywhere from 2 to 12 days later, though the typical onset is 4 to 8 days according to the World Health Organization. Fever often comes on first, and quickly, followed by the other symptoms.
Within the first week after symptoms show up, tests can detect viral genes circulating in the blood, Nasci says. After a week, blood tests can detect antibodies to the virus.
There's no cure for the disease, so doctors treat symptoms, such as giving fever-reducing medicines and painkillers. In most people, the virus cruises around the body for about a week to 10 days, Nasci says. "Then your immune system starts to clear the virus from your body," he says. Most people recover without any recurring symptoms within two weeks or so, he says.
Not everyone is that lucky, however. Up to about 35 percent of people go on to have joint pain, he says. The joint pain may persist for several weeks or even several months. Anti-inflammatory medicines can help treat the pain.
Dodging the Chikungunya bullet
No vaccine is available to prevent the disease, so avoiding mosquito bites is best. If you're traveling, find out if the virus is a problem at your destination. The CDC's Chikungunya virus webpage has a map. Click on Chikungunya Virus Distribution to check out your destination.
If your destination has had cases, the CDC recommends you:
- Turn on air conditioning or use windows and screens to keep mosquitoes out.
- Get rid of standing water, such as in buckets or flower pots, which can attract mosquitoes.
- Use insect repellents. Look for products that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol.
- If possible, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
Should we watch for Lohan-inspired Chikungunya gear? Camo ankle pants, maybe, and long-sleeve, DEET-infused shirts?