As much as I wish this wasn't the case, chikungunya is in the news AGAIN this week as a disease that has found its way to the United States. When I first drafted this post, (May of 2014) I had typed "making its way to the United States" and now it's here, just a few months later. I have my own personal story with this nasty mosquito-borne disease and if telling my tale means just a few people will spray themselves down when going outside, it will be worth telling.
The word chikungunya is thought to derive from a description in the Makonde language (Tanzania), meaning "that which bends up" and describes the often contorted position that you find your limbs when afflicted with chikungunya. It was first discovered, named and discussed in 1955 following an outbreak in Tanzania. Chikungunya is spread when an infected mosquito bites a healthy person. A mosquito can also become infected with the disease when biting someone who already has the disease and spread it that way.
If you can believe it, chikungunya was one of more than a dozen agents the United States researched as potential biological weapons before the nation suspended its biological weapons program (source: Wikipedia).
The incubation period of chikungunya is between one day to just over one week. Symptoms will vary from patient to patient, but I'll tell you MY story.
On night in 2010, I went to bed with an extreme headache. It was like one that I had never experienced before. I don't remember how I slept that night, but when I woke up, I was completely drenched and had a fever of 104.5. I don't remember that morning at all, but Shanti and Sushila (our cook and housekeeper) recounted the happenings later to me. I was absolutely incoherent, unconsolable and not able to speak due to the very high fever. They were able to get the littles ready for school and thankfully, Kushal (our driver) could take them to school and their morning was basically uninterrupted.
The next thing that I can recall was "coming to" at about 2:00 pm that same day. Shanti had called our doctor to make a house call as my fever wasn't coming down and I was completely unresponsive to them and refusing to eat or drink. He was only able to administer a fever reducer (which didn't work at all, and the fever continued between 103-104 into the next afternoon. Over the next two days, my friend Pam and others, including our staff, were amazing and helped out with the kids, bedtimes, school, etc.
Soon after the fever ended, the rash developed. All over my hands, arms, feet and legs. They were small reddish-orange bumps that were so prevalent, they touched each other and literally seemed to be everywhere. At the same time, the arthritic issues began. If I have ever felt I could understand what it felt like to age, this was such a time. It took quite a long time in the morning to get out of bed. Waiting first for my hands and elbows to unhinge and loosen before I could pull back the sheets. Even longer before I could bend my knees to swing them over so my feet could touch the floor.
The headaches and joint pain continued for months after I first got sick. In the weeks and months following my bout with chikungunya, I kept getting sick and falling ill it seemed at the drop of a hat. I felt continuously run down, exhausted and like I had a constant fever (I could only describe it as feeling hot on the inside, as very rarely did I ever actually have a fever). I had a healthy appetite, thank goodness, but every 3-4 days, I would get sick enough that I would end up in bed. I began to recognize the pattern and would schedule down days after any big events or situations where I was required to be "on."
Soon after, I had my first mammogram, unrelated but at the insistence of my friend Lynden. Laying on the table following the mammogram, I was being examined when the doctor's assistant asked what I was sick with. I looked at her surprised and said "nothing, why?"
Apparently my lymph nodes in my underarms were reminiscent of something more serious and she insisted that I have a full set of lab work done immediately. Fast forward to the phone call from the lab, "do you have the Epstein Barr virus" the man on the other end of the phone asked as I stood in Fun City (the Indian version of Chuck E Cheese) struggling to hear him. "No, why?"
It turns out that Epstein Barr virus is the same thing as mono, which I had experienced when I was about 14, from one of my lovely fellow soccer teammates' water bottles. Apparently, the virus lays dormant after you've contracted it, and in situations where your immune system is challenged (such as having chikungunya), it flares up again.
My levels were way above normal, and it was put on a regiment of vitamins to help boost my immunity, which I was unable to tolerate. Each time I would take my daily dose, I would not be able to keep any of them down and spent the next six months struggling.
Because I was not getting better and felt that our current location was not allowing me to fully heal and rest, we moved to Singapore with the hopes that I could start to recover, however not until this past year have I realized that I don't feel that "inside fever" anymore and I don't feel so run down anymore with many months in between episodes of getting sick.
What can you do?
Katie from Wellness Mama has many natural remedies if you don't want to deal with chemicals. You can also explore deet-free sprays that contain oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, which is a known plant-based ingredient recommended as a repellant by the Centers of Disease Control. Consider also citronella candlesor thesecool natural incense sticks.
I doubt the United States will take up the practice of mosquito fogging like they do in India and Singapore, but if you want to read about that practice, I shared about it here.
Cover up, spray yourself down and light those citronellas!
------> Read my feature piece on the topic of chikungunya at Cameron Diaz's new site, The Body Book!!