Central America / Travel

Chikungunya Virus, Testing Positive

Chikungunya-Virus
Lab results for Scott.

My husband Scott and I try to be smart, well-informed travelers and do the proper research to determine what vaccinations are recommended or required for each country we visit. We are aware that there are many viruses and parasites which we can contract, with no guaranteed way to protect ourselves.

This is our story of Scott’s experience with the Chikungunya Virus.

We began our 17 day trip by spending several days in El Salvador. Our first couple of nights were at a guest house in Santa Ana. One evening, we spent time in a lush courtyard visiting with the owner and his two teenage sons. They gave us advice about hiking the Santa Ana Volcano and answered some of our questions.

The next day I asked if the boys were at school, but their Dad told me one of the boys had stayed home from school, sick with a fever.  Right then, I knew we had been exposed to something.  Maybe, only a cold or flu, or possibly something different than what we have in California.  I kept that at the back of my mind as we went on about our travels around El Salvador and then into Nicaragua.

playa-marsella-nicaragua
Playa Marsella, Nicaragua

About six days later, we were on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua.  We were staying a couple of days at a beautiful bay called Playa Marsella. Having rented paddle boards and a kayak we were relaxing and having a good time.  At the end of the second day, Scott thought he broke his toe while paddle boarding.  He switched to the kayak.  When he came back to the beach he said his arms and wrists were killing him and he was exhausted. We laughed about him getting old.  After dinner he wanted to lie down and wasn’t feeling well. He was burning up with fever. I gave him a couple of Ibuprofen and he slept for the next ten hours.  He woke up in the morning with no fever but awful body and joint aches. We wondered if he had caught what the boy had back in El Salvador. I did some research online. I was suspicious that it could be the Chikungunya Virus. Scott didn’t remember being bitten by a mosquito, which is how it’s transmitted.  We had been so diligent with our mosquito repellent, reapplying a couple times a day.

shrimp-nacho-nicaragua
Shrimp nachos!

By mid-morning, he was feeling well enough to leave our hotel and move down the coast to San Juan del Sur.  We had a taxi drop us off and we set out to find a place to stay. After a thirty minute walk, we found the H.C Liri Hotel at the north end of the beach. With one room available we were lucky and we left our things and went out for lunch. Scott was able to share a huge plate of shrimp nachos with me, but I knew he wasn’t feeling 100% because he didn’t drink a beer!

By the time we got back to our hotel, he was burning up with fever again. He also had red spots all over his torso. I thought they were hives and gave him an antihistamine. He slept the afternoon away and woke in time for dinner. The fever seemed to be coming and going. I tried not to give him Ibuprofen unless he really needed it, so this virus could run it’s course.

The next morning he was feeling well and we went for a hike  to the top of the Mirador del Cristo de la Misericordia.  It has beautiful views of San Juan del Sur and the bay. I kept my eye on Scott to be sure he wasn’t pushing himself too much, but as long as he didn’t have the fever he was in good spirits.

lake-nicaragua
Isla Ometepe at Lake Nicaragua

After returning to our hotel, we swam in the pool and hung out at the beach.  We had to check out that day and do some traveling.  We took a taxi to the port on Lake Nicaragua and then took the ferry over to the island of Ometepe.  Of course it was an adventure to find a hotel but eventually we were settled in and relaxing on our beach. That evening the fever came back and Scott slept another ten hour night.

In the morning he felt better and we went on with the rest of our trip with no more fevers or hives.

After returning home to California, Scott was having aches in his joints and it was making it difficult to work.  His wrist was in terrible pain from a flare up of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.  It was keeping him awake at night. We were both concerned that he may have contracted the Chikungunya Virus.  He was having text book symptoms; body aches, joint pain and lethargy.  After two weeks it was taking an emotional toll.  Scott was getting depressed thinking he would need surgery for Carpel Tunnel.  He felt unsure of his future, if he was having such joint pain, how could he go on with his work?  He climbed ladders every day while installing heating and air conditioning systems and sheet metal.  It’s a very physical job.

Scott decided to try Acupuncture.  He thought this may help the pain in his wrist and joints.  He was getting desperate, enough to pay to have needles put into his skin!  He did have some relief after several sessions to reduce the inflammation.

Finally, we decided he would go to the doctor and see if he could get some advice for his wrist pain. It was time to get tested for the Chikungunya Virus, which could be the cause of all his problems.

Scott got in to see the Physician’s Assistant at our doctor’s office.  Scott told him about the pain in his wrist.  I explained about our trip, the exposure to the sick boy and my concern that it may be the Chikungunya Virus. The P.A. looked up the virus, disregarded it, and proceeded to discuss options for Scott’s wrist/arm/hand pain. I was a bit frustrated at this point but sat patiently as they discussed possible surgery if anti-inflammatories didn’t help. At the end of the visit the P.A. said he had decided to send Scott to the lab for some blood work to test for the Chikungunya antibody.

Several days later he (the P.A.) called and Scott put him on speaker phone. Scott had tested positive for the Chikungunya Virus!  The P.A. was so surprised and said it was the first case in our County.  The joint pain associated with the virus can last up to a year. He said the Carpel Tunnel was probably flaring up because of the arthritis in Scott’s joints from the virus. Surgery was not an option, once the virus is gone, his joints and arm should be back to normal.

Scott was so relieved to know the exact cause of his problems. We knew it might take time, but he will get better.

UPDATE:

Ten weeks after the trip.  Scott is improving every week. He has hiked 17 miles of the PCT, is back to doing push-ups and working out. The joints in his ankles are giving him trouble and are very painful in the mornings. His arm still hurts, but not enough to keep him awake at night. The P.A. had prescribed him a steady dose of ibuprofen to reduce inflammation which he took for a few weeks. Things are looking up and he feels better and is much more positive.  He even joked about our upcoming Thailand trip and asked me what he was going to catch there!

For more information, and a detailed description of the Chikungunya Virus, click here to visit the Centers for Disease Control website.

6 thoughts on “Chikungunya Virus, Testing Positive

  1. I’m glad Scott is feeling better and that the PA listened enough to opt for the blood test rather than treating the other “symptoms” of pain with surgery etc.
    Curious how the virus was transmitted though…if it’s by mosquito and he didn’t have mosquito bites, do you think it can also transmit airborn? But then you didn’t get it by being in close proximity. hmmmmm

    1. He had to have been bitten. He doesn’t get red welts, so he must not have noticed. Which is good and bad for him. 🙂

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