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Chikungunya: Painful, debilitating, and mosquito-borne

Defend yourself; they're on the prowl!
Defend yourself; they're on the prowl!
istock photo #5006157

It’s not trending yet, but …

Along with the threat of the West Nile virus, there’s another mosquito-transmitted illness to add to your already overloaded worry dance card: Chikungunya. This new one has yet to be detected in the Philly area, but it pays to be forewarned, especially since this rainy spring has made for perfect breeding grounds.

First discovered some 60 years ago, in Africa, the disease hit the Caribbean in a big way late last year. In fact, most of the approximately 135,000 suspected or known cases originated there. And now it’s in the states—lots of them--thanks to travelers.

Roughly translated, chikungunya means “to become contorted” or “that which bends up,” so worry away. And while not potentially lethal like West Nile, it apparently takes a hefty toll on the bitten with symptoms that can include:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Swelling
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

Actually, it can get so bad that just trying to walk or shake hands is said to be unbearable. Plus, there is no known treatment, so it's wise to take precautions. For starters:

  1. Toss any containers where water can collect, such as plant pot dishes, cans, and discarded tires.
  2. Drill holes in the bottoms of outdoor containers.
  3. Clean gutters annually.
  4. Invert kiddie pools, wheelbarrows, and birdbaths when not in use.
  5. Either aerate your ornamental pool or keep it stocked with fish.
  6. Keep your swimming pool well-chlorinated.

Experts also suggest wearing light-colored clothes when out there, as dark ones—and blue, in particular--attract mosquitoes. Go with long-sleeves and pants, as well. At the same time, be sure to apply insect repellent—but be sure to carefully read and follow label directions. These are considered safe bets:

  • Permethrin-treated clothing
  • Picaridin
  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Herbal mosquito repellent
  • DEET mosquito repellent

About DEET, though, be sure to keep these safety tips in mind:

  1. Buy products with a concentration of no more than 10% to 30%.
  2. Apply it only once a day and never on babies two months and younger.
  3. Use it sparingly and not on kids’ hands which often rub eyes or end up in mouths.
  4. Apply it in an open area to avoid inhaling it.
  5. Avoid all-in-one sunscreen and DEET-containing products because sunscreen should be applied more than once a day unlike DEET.
  6. Wash it off well with soap and water once indoors for good; wash clothing well, too.

And so it goes. Stay tuned, and with a bit of luck, those hungry mosquitoes will keep their distance. Just don’t count on it …