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What is chikungunya?
Chikungunya is a viral illness transmitted to people by certain mosquitoes. It's usually short-lived but symptoms can sometimes be severe. Chikungunya is one of a few mosquito-borne illnesses, along with Zika and dengue that can be problematic or even dangerous for pregnant women and babies.
Chikungunya rarely crops up in the United States. Outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, and more recently, the Caribbean.
In 2014 more than 2,000 cases of chikungunya were found in travelers returning to the United States from affected areas, and 12 locally transmitted cases were reported in Florida. In 2015 about 700 cases in returning travelers were reported in U.S. states (none of them locally transmitted), and about 200 locally transmitted cases were reported in U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
Babies infected with chikungunya are at higher risk for a severe case of the disease. You can protect your baby if you're traveling to or living in a place where the illness is common by avoiding mosquito bites (see below). Also see our article on chikungunya in pregnant women.
How to tell if your baby has chikungunya
It's hard to tell if your baby has chikungunya, but these are common signs:
- Fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius or more)
- Unusual fussiness, sleepiness, or refusing to eat
If you're in affected areas (or have been recently) and your baby has these symptoms, seek medical care immediately.
Treatments for chikungunya
There's no medicine for chikungunya. Your healthcare provider will probably suggest treating the symptoms in these simple ways:
- Make sure your baby gets plenty of opportunities to rest.
- Try to get your baby to nurse or drink frequently to avoid dehydration. (Babies under 6 months should drink only breast milk or formula. If your baby is 3 months or older, your doctor may recommend a rehydration liquid as well. Babies 6 months or older can have sips of water, too.)
- Give your baby acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain. (Don't give NSAIDS like ibuprofen or aspirin.)
How to protect your baby against chikungunya
There's no vaccine to prevent chikungunya. In countries where chikungunya or other viruses spread by mosquitoes have been reported, take these steps to avoid getting bitten:
- Keep your baby's crib, stroller, and baby carrier covered with mosquito netting at all times, both indoors and outdoors.
- For babies over 2 months, use insect repellent with up to 30 percent DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. Follow the directions on the product. Don't use insect repellent on babies under 2 months old.
- Dress your baby in loose cotton clothing that covers the arms and legs.
- Stay in places that have air conditioning or have screens on windows and doors.
See our slideshow: 7 ways to protect yourself from mosquitoes