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Chikungunya - wish I'd had my stingersuit on!

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Recently I wrote about our trip to Bali and returning home with new locations for stinger shoot photos.

Turns out it’s not the only thing I brought back for I’m now dealing with a mosquito borne virus called Chikungunya. Although it sounds like a tasty take away dish from the local Indian restaurant, trust me, it’s not a joking matter as the pain I’ve been in is some of the worst of my life.

With about 3 days left in our holiday, I got up in the morning, put my foot down to go to the bathroom and almost fell over due to the pain in my foot and ankle. Hobbling like a 95-year-old I winced my way to the loo. That morning I spent in bed thinking a little rest would help.

In the afternoon, we went with our friends into Kuta, purchased gifts for their children, then Danny wanted to go to Bubba Gump’s for a meal. Neil and I ordered drinks and almost immediately I started to feel off in the tummy. I ate one or two chips from my meal and that was it. So unlike me when there’s naughty food to be had!

The next day we were scheduled to do a mountain bike ride and fully expected I wouldn’t be up to it however, in the morning I wasn’t too bad, so luckily we were able to enjoy the day.

The next day I had chills and once more felt very ordinary and walking was a complete chore.

With all these weird things happening to me I saw my doctor when I got home. I’ve seen David for 25 years, he knows my pain tolerance, so when he gave me a week off work I realized it was something not to be taken lightly.

Blood tests came back clear so we were still in the dark. Anti-inflammatories seemed to help a bit but I was still crippled by pain. Neil spoke to someone who said he had Ross River fever and it took the third blood test to diagnose it.

Back to the doctors, more blood work, still came back clear. With that David thought it wise to send me to an immunologist and after describing my symptoms, and being a tad persistent, he felt I had what he called “Chikungunya virus” or a weird mutation thereof.

Apparently, in the past couple years there has been a large spike in reported cases here in Australia, mostly from people returning from a Balinese holiday. Sounds like somebody I know!!

So now I am passing on to fellow travelers what I have discovered about this horribly debilitating virus.

The name “Chikungunya” is an African word that describes somebody who becomes twisted and bent in the face of severe pain. Although starting out in Africa, then making its way to India and then South-East Asia, it’s no longer just in Third World Tropical countries. In fact, World Health Organization stats show it occurs in 60 countries including the USA and Western Europe!

Originally carried by the same mosquito that gives you Dengue fever it’s now also carried by the Asian Tiger mosquito, a mosquito that can tolerate a cooler climate, hence the spread north.

What to look out for;

1) Crippling pains in joints, 87-98% of cases. Most only for a few days but some, like myself last for weeks and months, or heaven forbid, years. Generally, bilateral small joints in hands, feet, knees, elbows. Pain can also be in the muscles and ligaments. For example, I suffer from sharp pain in my upper arm/bicep area on certain movements and initially I thought my Achilles tendons were about to snap off the bone.

2) Fever, most commonly about a week after the bite and lasts a couple days.

3) Feel sick. Nausea, can lead to vomiting therefore coupled with the fever you need to increase your fluid intake or risk severe dehydration

4) Chills. 2 or 3 days after the bite and can last a few days.

5) Headaches. A few days after the bite, can be severe and last 2 to 7 days.

6) Rash and other signs on skin in 40-50%. Usually red raised bumps, peeling skin, like my feet and hands, and skin spotting or hyperpigmentation. Mouth ulcer can also occur. Most resolved in 2-3 weeks.

7) Diarrhea. Can last a few days so again, you must rehydrate.

8) Heart problems. Although rare it can cause heart damage. Mostly concerning those with a preexisting condition, babies and elderly. Majority of patients who develop severe symptoms are over 65 and one third of them die as a result.

9) Insomnia. Common in the early stages and can outlast the fever stage.

10) Damage to eye site from inflammation.

So, up until the end of May I had no idea there was a virus with such an amusing name but trust me, Chikungunya is not to be taken lightly.

As there is no vaccine you must take all precautions not to be bitten in the first place. Since these mosquitos are actively feeding during the day please make sure to use a really good repellant, something like “Bushman’s” and cover up as much of your exposed skin as possible. Trust me on this!

Say, there’s yet another use for Exotic Waterwear stinger suits. Help protect your skin from sun damage and hopefully those mosquitos transmitting their horrible viruses!

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