CHIKUNGUNYA EPIDEMIC IN KERALA
Viral epidemic continues to plague
Kerala, takes lives every day
28 June, 2007:
A severe epidemic of never-before
magnitude – fatal to some and
debilitating to most of the affected –
has been sweeping Kerala for over a
month now. It is generally suspected
that the epidemic is chikungunya.
But even now there is no consensus
among medical experts on whether the
frightful epidemic is actually
chikungunya or something else.
However, there is a broad consensus
among the medical fraternity that the
epidemic is caused by virus.
Whereas a similar outbreak of viral
fever in 2006 was mainly confined to
Kerala’s coastal district of Alappuzha,
in 2007 the epidemic started and
spread fast in Kerala’s eastern
districts of Kottayam, Pathnamthitta
and Idikki. These three districts are
very unlikely to be affected by such a
disease since all the three lie away
from the sea or backwaters and
comprise mostly hilly regions. And,
these three districts in Kerala are
relatively mosquito-free thanks to
their high altitude general
When the epidemic started acquiring
gigantic proportions, the Army’s
medical wing was called in to assist
the Kerala government mainly in its
cleanliness drive to tackle the
mosquito-borne viral disease.
Reports available on June 28 say that
the viral epidemic has spread to other
parts of Kerala, including Palakkad,
where over 2,000 people have sought
medical help with fever and other
Since the epidemic that has been
scaring and killing people in Kerala
for over a month now has not yet been
diagnosed, hospitals are groping in
the dark regarding treatment. Most
hospitals prescribe paracetamol
tablets. And, almost all hospitals in
the affected areas of Kerala are
overflowing with epidemic patients.
Anyway, the common notion among the
general public is that the epidemic is
chikungunya, the same as the one which
hit Kerala in October 2006.
Chikungunya is a relatively rare form
of viral fever caused by an alphavirus
that is spread by mosquito bites from
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, though
recent research by the Pasteur
Institute in Paris claims the virus
has suffered a mutation that enables
it to be transmitted by Aedes
albopictus (Tiger mosquito). This was
the cause of the plague in the Indian
Ocean region and a threat to the
Mediterranean coast at present.
The name chikungunya is derived from
the Makonde word meaning “that which
bends up” in reference to the stooped
posture of the patient developed as a
result of the arthritic symptoms of
Chikungunya fever resembles dengue
fever, and is characterised by severe,
sometimes persistent, joint pain
(arthritis) as well as fever and rash.
It is rarely life-threatening.
Nevertheless it could be fatal – as
has been for many – especially for the
aged and the sick.
In October 2006, 151 districts of
eight states/provinces in India were
affected by chikungunya. The affected
states are Andhra Pradesh, Andaman &
Nicobar Islands, Tamil Nadu,
Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat,
Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Delhi.
Symptomatic treatment for mitigating
pain and fever using anti-inflammatory
drugs along with rest is usually
enough. While recovery from
chikungunya is the expected outcome,
convalescence can be prolonged up to a
year or more, and persistent joint
pain may require analgesics and
long-term anti-inflammatory therapy.
No vaccine is available against
chikungunya. Prevention solely depends
on taking steps to avoid mosquito
bites and elimination of
The Aedes mosquitoes that transmit
chikungunya breed in a wide variety of
manmade containers which are common
around human dwellings. These
containers collect rainwater, and
include discarded tires, flowerpots,
oil drums, water storage vessels, and
plastic food containers.