Published On: Mon, Dec 16th, 2013

Notice to Public Health Officials and Clinicians: Recognizing, Managing, and Reporting Chikungunya Virus Infections in travelers returning from the Caribbean


Chikungunya virusOn December 7, 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the first local (autochthonous) transmission of chikungunya virus in the Americas. As of December 12th, 10 cases of chikungunya have been confirmed in patients who reside on the French side of St. Martin in the Caribbean. Laboratory testing is pending on additional suspected cases. Onset of illness for confirmed cases was between October 15 and December 4. At this time, there are no reports of other suspected chikungunya cases outside St. Martin. However, further spread to other countries in the region is possible.

Chikungunya virus infection should be considered in patients with acute onset of fever and polyarthralgia, especially those who have recently traveled to the Caribbean. Healthcare providers are encouraged to report suspected chikungunya cases to their state or local health department to facilitate diagnosis and to mitigate the risk of local transmission.


Chikungunya virus is a mosquito-borne alphavirus transmitted primarily by Aedes aegypti andAedes albopictus mosquitoes. Humans are the primary reservoir during epidemics. Outbreaks have been documented in Africa, Southern Europe, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Prior to the cases on St. Martin, the only chikungunya cases identified in the Americas were in travelers returning from endemic areas.

Clinical Disease

A majority of people infected with chikungunya virus become symptomatic. The incubation period is typically 3–7 days (range, 2–12 days). The most common clinical findings are acute onset of fever and polyarthralgia. Joint pains are often severe and debilitating. Other symptoms may include headache, myalgia, arthritis, or rash. Persons at risk for more severe disease include neonates (aged <1 month) exposed intrapartum, older adults (e.g., > 65 years), and persons with underlying medical conditions (e.g., hypertension, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease).


Chikungunya virus infection should be considered in patients with acute onset of fever and polyarthralgia who recently returned from the Caribbean. Laboratory diagnosis is generally accomplished by testing serum to detect virus, viral nucleic acid, or virus-specific immunoglobulin M (IgM) and neutralizing antibodies. During the first week of illness, chikungunya virus infection can often be diagnosed by using viral culture or nucleic acid amplification on serum. Virus-specific IgM and neutralizing antibodies normally develop toward the end of the first week of illness. To definitively rule out the diagnosis, convalescent-phase samples should be obtained from patients whose acute-phase samples test negative.

Chikungunya virus diagnostic testing is performed at CDC, two state health departments (California and New York), and one commercial laboratory (Focus Diagnostics). Healthcare providers should contact their state or local health department to facilitate testing.

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