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What is Chikungunya?

This viral illness spreads to people from mosquito bites and the name comes from the Kimakonde language in Tanzania meaning to “become contorted.”  Early symptoms of chikungunya include high fever, rash, and severe joint pain.  Up to 50% of people infected will experience prolonged fatigue and joint pain often affecting the hands and feet.  Sadly, for some people symptoms can last months or years impacting daily activities and livelihood.

Similar to dengue fever and zika, chikungunya is spread from the Aedes mosquito species, which has adapted to live in urban areas and often bites during the daytime. 

When outbreaks occur, the illness spreads rapidly within communities, with up to 75% of a population becoming ill.  People of any age can be infected, although infections tend to be more severe in those with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, and those 65 years and older. A blood sample sent to a laboratory is needed to confirm infection, and because test equipment is not readily available in many places of the world, many cases likely go unreported.

Many countries throughout the world have reported cases of chikungunya in the past five years
Symptoms after infection with the chikungunya virus can include moderate to severe headache, fatigue, joint and muscle pain.

Where is Chikungunya Found?

Many tropical and subtropical countries are at risk for chikungunya due to the presence of the Aedes mosquito. Owing to its wide geographic distribution, chikungunya infections have been reported in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.  Most outbreaks occur during the rainy season and cases typically decrease during the dry season.

How Do I Protect Myself Against Infection?

Because there is no specific treatment for chikungunya infection, it’s best to avoid infection altogether with vaccination and mosquito bite avoidance.

Adults 18 years and older may be recommended the chikungunya vaccine before international travel.  Individuals traveling to a country with a current chikungunya outbreak or visiting an at-risk country for more than 6 months are highest priority for vaccination.  Additionally, people 65 years and older, especially those with certain health conditions, and with plans to stay more than 2 weeks in an area with past outbreaks should consider vaccination.  

IXCHIQ Chikungunya Vaccine

The chikungunya vaccine, brand name IXCHIQ, received FDA approval for use in adults 18 years and older the in United States in November 2023.  Currently, no other vaccine is available to prevent chikungunya illness in the US.  The vaccine is administered as a single dose in the deltoid muscle of the arm.

What Else Should I Know About the IXCHIQ Vaccine?

Like all vaccines, some mild side effects after vaccination including arm pain, headache, muscle pain, and low grade fever is normal.  In a small percentage of people, side effects from the vaccine interfered with normal daily activities.

Similar to the measles, chickenpox, and yellow fever vaccines, IXCHIQ is a live attenuated immunization and should be given on the same day as other live vaccines or four weeks apart.  Individuals with a weakened immune system should not take the chikungunya vaccine.  As part of your appointment, a comprehensive review of your health history will be completed to ensure the vaccine is right for you. 

This variety of mosquito transmits chikungunya along with dengue fever and zika

Where Can I Find the Chikungunya Vaccine?

Because Destination Health Clinic specializes in travel medicine, the chikungunya vaccine is available at all three of our Massachusetts offices; Braintree – South Shore, Natick – Framingham, and Springfield – Longmeadow.  For appointments, please call the offices nearest you or schedule online.

Other Travel Vaccines to Consider

If you are visiting a country or region where chikungunya infection is a concern, chances are, other travel vaccines and malaria medication are recommended.  Immunizations to protect against other mosquito diseases include Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis. Food and water safety is also a top priority for travelers and the Hepatitis A and Typhoid Fever vaccines can keep you safe.