The chikungunya virus that swept through the territory about a year ago can cause encephalitis, according to a study reported in the Neurology Journal. The publication is the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Health Department spokeswoman Astia Lebron, however, said no cases of chikungunya-related encephalitis were reported in the territory.
The study, which took place between 2005 and 2009 on the French island of La Reunion, located east of Madagascar, indicated that 8.6 people per 100,000 persons got encephalitis while suffering from chikungunya. The fatality rate was 16.6 percent.
It showed that those under one year and people over age 65 were the most susceptible. The incident rate in those under a year stood at 187 per 100,000 people. For those over 65, the incident rate was 37 per 100,000 people.
Lebron pointed out that it’s important for people to get regular medical checkups to identify any underlying illnesses that could compromise their health should they get the chikungunya virus. She said chikungunya isn’t usually fatal unless people have underlying conditions.
“The bottom line is it’s important for all of us to know our health status,” Lebron said.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. Viral infections are the most common cause of the condition.
The website indicated that encephalitis can cause flu-like symptoms such as a fever or severe headache. It can also cause confused thinking, seizures or problems with senses or movement. However, many cases of encephalitis result in only mild flu-like symptoms or even no symptoms.
Severe cases of encephalitis, while relatively rare, can be life-threatening. Because the course of any single case of encephalitis can be unpredictable, it’s important to get a timely diagnosis and treatment, the Mayo Clinic suggested.
The territory saw a chikungunya outbreak that began in May 2014. By the time the outbreak waned in December 2014, there were 230 confirmed cases across the territory. Additionally, there were 46 probable cases and 1,321 suspected cases, the Health Department’s website indicates.
Lebron said there haven’t been any chikungunya outbreaks since the one that began in 2014.
The department’s epidemiologist, Dr. Esther Ellis, could not be reached for more information.
The chikungunya virus is transmitted by Aedes species mosquitoes, the same type that transmits the dengue virus. The mosquitoes bite mostly during the daytime.
The Health Department’s website indicates symptoms usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The most common symptoms are fever and severe joint pains, often in the hands and feet. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash.
There is no vaccine or medication to prevent chikungunya virus infection or disease. To help prevent being bitten by a chikungunya-carrying mosquito, use air conditioning or screens on doors and windows; use mosquito repellents on exposed skin; wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants; wear permethrin-treated clothing; empty standing water from outdoor containers; and support local vector control programs.
People at increased risk for severe disease should consider not traveling to areas with ongoing chikungunya outbreaks.
If you are sick with chikungunya, avoiding mosquito bites will help prevent further spread of the virus.
For more information on chikungunya, visit www.cdc.gov/chikungunya.