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Dengue fever and chikungunya are two vector-borne diseases wherein the vector is any mosquito under the Aedes aegypti - although there are certain cases of chikungunya spread by the Aedes albopictus - which introduces viruses into the bloodstream.
These diseases usually affect the people living in tropical areas which have a humid, moderate climate. This is because it is difficult for the mosquitoes to breed in the extremities of weather. Mosquitoes, in most cases, breed in contaminated and still water, both indoors as well as outdoors.
Historically, the two were considered to be one and the same because of the similarity in their symptoms. Even today, it is difficult to diagnose or distinguish between the two unless a lab test is performed.
There are also rare cases where a person may have both the diseases. To make matters worse, there is no vaccine that is globally recognized or approved.
Also, there are no medications specifically meant to treat these diseases. The only treatment that happens after diagnosis is limited to reducing or countering the effects of the symptoms like joint pain, fever, etc. and not the virus as a whole.
These two diseases are potential threats to life or at least cause damage to different organs of our body if left undiagnosed and poorly treated. The only way out is to be aware of the symptoms of the two and take timely action before it is too late.
In this article, you can find differences between the two diseases and their symptoms.
1. The Cause
Dengue - It is caused by viruses of the Flavivirus genus under the Flaviviridae family. It is only the female mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti that carry and transmit the virus and cause dengue.
Chikungunya - It is caused by the viruses of the genus Alphavirus under the Togaviridae family. This virus can be transmitted either by the bite of Aedes aegypti, which happens to be the most common cause of chikungunya or in rare cases by the bite of Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.
Aedes aegypti is also the primary vector for other diseases like Zika and yellow fever viruses as well.
2. The Symptoms
• A severe headache
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• A sudden high fever with temperatures of about 103°F or higher (which is not caused by an infection that was already present) which subsides after 2 to 4 days and is accompanied by an unusually high amount of sweating
• Pain on the forehead areas and behind the eyes (especially while moving the eyes)
• Feeling fatigued and extremely weak
• Body and joint pain
• Difficulty in breathing along with low heart rate (tachycardia)
• Low blood pressure
• Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and groin.
If the case is much severe, there are other noticeable symptoms like bleeding from gums or nose (mostly in mild amounts), rashes or bruises on the face and/or arms and legs, pale skin, extreme restlessness or sleepiness, being thirsty all the time, pain in the abdomen and passing black stools. In addition to that, the platelet count diminishes, sometimes severely.
• A headache
• A sore throat
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• High fever of about 103°F or more
• Rashes and bumps (maculopapular rash) on the skin (especially on the palms, face, torso, hands and feet)
• Pain in the eyes often accompanied by conjunctivitis and pain/discomfort caused because of exposure to light (photophobia)
• Severe back pain (especially in the lower back)
• Severe muscle and joint pain (especially in the wrists, ankles, hand and feet) sometimes accompanied by mild swelling. The pain is usually the strongest in the morning.
• Feeling of fatigue
3. Time Taken For These Symptoms To Start Showing
Dengue - The time taken for these symptoms to develop, i.e., incubation period, is about 3 to 7 days.
Chikungunya - The incubation period is about 1 to 12 days.
4. How Long Does The Disease Last?
Dengue - The disease may persist for about 4 to 7 weeks.
Chikungunya - The disease may persist for about 1 to 2 weeks, although the symptoms like joint pain may take years to fade away.
5. The Fatalities
Dengue is considered more fatal than chikungunya and also has the potential to kill people if left untreated. Moreover, during the disease, the symptoms may become very severe. For instance, there may be heavy bleeding, too much difficulty in breathing, etc. The symptoms, as well as the platelet count, must be constantly monitored in order to keep it under control.
Chikungunya is not as fatal as dengue. But the symptoms that a person develops during the disease sometimes stick to them for a lot of years. This is especially true for the body pain which may take months or years to fade away. In very rare cases, it may also cause neurological damage.
But Why Do Mosquitoes Bite You In The First Place?
It is only the female mosquitoes that bite. Why? That's because the female mosquitoes need blood to produce eggs. The male mosquitoes feed on flower nectar and are pretty harmless. As the female mosquito bites us, it also releases a little bit of its saliva - which acts as an anticoagulant - into our bloodstream, thereby transmitting the viruses.
Then why don't all mosquito bites cause diseases in us? That's because not all mosquitoes have viruses in them - they have an immune system too which fights these viruses. Even the ones that are infected with viruses don't necessarily transfer the infection because of multiple reasons.
As the female bites and draws in more blood, it lays lots of eggs in the water which again leads to the same cycle of events.
How To Prevent Chikungunya And Dengue?
The first step towards preventing the diseases is to prevent their vectors - aka mosquitoes. Every year, the government releases commercials and pamphlets asking citizens to prevent water from getting collected in containers and other open as well as indoor spaces, but rarely do people pay heed to it.
So why in the first place is the government saying that and why should you pay attention to it? Mosquitoes need contaminated water or water collected in containers and spaces to breed.
Moreover, a female mosquito can lay about 100 eggs or more in one single cycle and can have up to 3 of these cycles in their lifetime which is about 2 weeks to 6 weeks depending upon the environment. So the solution is to nip it in the bud and also prevent them from biting.
• Don't allow water to get collected in containers or open spaces.
• Preventing any kinds of waste materials from getting accumulated in open spaces.
• Wearing long sleeves or covering as much of your body as you can if and when you're in countries/places that are at high risk of such diseases, especially in the rainy season.
• Apply mosquito repellent creams.
• Use eucalyptus oil
• Use DDT sprays
In spite of all these measures, there are chances that mosquitoes will still bite you. If you suspect that you have one or more of the symptoms of the diseases, visit a doctor and get a test performed as soon as possible.