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Avoid mosquito bites to fight chikungunya

By Gardy Chacha | Jun 29th 2016 | 3 min read

The past couple of weeks have not been the best in the history of Mandera County’s Health.

Hundreds of residents have been battling chikungunya virus, a disease pathogen spread by mosquitoes.

The situation grew grimmer when authorities confirmed an equally devastating outbreak of cholera.

While cholera, a bacterial disease, is fairly understood by the Kenyan public, chikungunya remains clouded in mystery. In fact, residents of Mandera, like Hussein Salas, refer to chikungunya as a ‘phenomenon of shrinking joints’.

“You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you have to be assisted to relieve yourself,” Hussein, a patient suffering from the virus, points out, alluding to the near total loss of skeletal function and the emasculating lethargy.

Chikungunya virus infection manifests with fever, headache, joint pain and swelling, muscle pain and a rash while critical patients will show extreme symptoms such as inflammation of the heart.

Chikungunya is mainly diagnosed by running blood antibody tests.

Talking to the press last month, Mandera chief officer of health, Mariam Dubow Dahir, said about 540 patients had been admitted at public health facilities with chikungunya symptoms. She warned that the numbers could continue rising, a prospect that should worry health professionals in Kenya.

According to Ministry of Health (MoH) Director of Medical Services Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the Mandera chikungunya outbreak was the result of close proximity to Somalia, a country known to have been battling the virus.

Patients of chikungunya cannot directly transfer the virus to other humans because the virus has to pass through a mosquito.

However, outbreaks can occur in populations where a number of both mosquitoes and humans are infected with the virus, so that a mosquito biting a patient with the virus would infect a new person if it also bites them.

Muraguri also cited the weather, pointing out that rainfall that has been experienced throughout the country created conducive conditions for such an outbreak.

He also offered that MoH is launching a vector control programme to spray mosquito breeding sites.

Chikungunya virus is spread much in the same way malaria is spread – via mosquito blood meal. Humans are infected when Aedes aegypti and albopictus mosquitoes, containing Chikungunya virus, bite.

In other parts of the world, mainly across the tropical belt, the El Nino phenomenon has seen an increase in mosquito borne diseases like malaria and the Zika virus.

The Aedes mosquito also spreads Zika, yellow fever and dengue fever viruses.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the spread of chikungunya can be curtailed through preventive measures.

Eliminating areas where mosquitoes can breed by draining off pools of water is one of the recommendations. It is also important to dress in protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and trousers. Use of insect repellents would also be appropriate.

The good news about chikungunya though is that once a person recovers from the disease, according to research, they develop life-long immunity to the virus type.

No medicine or vaccine is currently available against Chikungunya virus.

Chikungunya was first described in East Africa in 1952.

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