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Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus can cause Serious Side Effects, Study says

Update Date: Nov 28, 2015 10:45 AM EST

The Chikungunya virus, which spreads through mosquitoes, can lead to more deadly side effects than experts expected, a new study reported.

According to the research team headed by Dr. Patrick Gérardin of Central University Hospital in Saint Pierre, Reunion Island, the virus, which is usually not fatal, can cause encephalitis more frequently than experts had believed. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain that can lead to fatal consequences. The researchers noted that their findings could be alarming for people living in areas, such as the Caribbean, where the virus is more common.

For this study, Dr. Gérardin and his team had examined an outbreak of the virus on Reunion Island between 2005 and 2006. After going through the medical records of all of the patients who were treated, they found that there were 8.6 cases of encephalitis per 100,000 people, which is a much higher rate than previously reported. The team found that encephalitis was more common in infants (187 per 100,000) and older adults (37 per 100,000)

"These numbers are both much higher than the rates of encephalitis in the United States in these age categories, even when you add together all the causes of encephalitis," Gérardin said.

The virus typically causes symptoms such as headache, joint pain, fever and rash.

"Since there is no vaccine to prevent chikungunya and no medicine to treat it, people who are traveling to these areas should be aware of this infection and take steps to avoid mosquito bites, such as wearing repellent and long sleeves and pants if possible," said Dr. Gérardin.

The Pan American Health Organization reported that in this year alone, there have been more than 600,000 cases with 76 deaths.

The study was published in the journal, Neurology.

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