By Naomi Hattaway
Have you heard yet about the nasty mosquito-borne disease called chikungunya? It’s such a funny sounding name (chicken-goon-ya) but a very serious illness that still has many Western doctors shaking their heads in confusion. Here’s my story of a very miserable – but preventable – experience with the disease.
The word chikungunya is thought to derive from a description in the Makonde language (Tanzania) meaning “that which bends up” and describes the often contorted position that you find your limbs when afflicted with chikungunya. Chikungunya is spread when an infected mosquito bites a healthy person. A non-infected mosquito can also become a carrier when biting someone who already has the disease. Because of this ease of transmission, it can spread like wildfire.
If you can believe it, chikungunya was one of more than a dozen agents the United States researched as potential biological weapons before the nation suspended its biological weapons program (source: Wikipedia).
Our family lived in New Delhi, India for three years from 2009 – 2012 and while we generally evaded most of the typical health issues (hello, delhi belly!) one can experience when living in a developing country like India, I did NOT escape chikungunya.
One night in 2010, I went to bed with an extreme headache, like one I’ve never experienced before. When I woke up early the next morning, I was completely drenched in sweat and had a fever of 104.5. I don’t remember that morning at all, but our housekeeper recounted the happenings later to me. I was absolutely incoherent, inconsolable and not able to speak in complete sentences due to the very high fever.
After more than 48 hours with the high fever, it finally broke and a rash developed all over my hands, arms, feet and legs. They were small reddish-orange bumps so rampant, they literally seemed to be everywhere. At the same time, arthritic-like issues began. If ever I could understand what it felt like to age and start to succumb to arthritis, this was such a time. It took quite a long time in the morning to get out of bed. Waiting first for my hands and elbows to unhinge and loosen before I could pull back the sheets. Even longer before I could bend my knees to swing them over so my feet could touch the floor. Once I had gotten out of bed, I found myself gingerly walking for the first couple of hours in the morning because it was painful to put weight on my feet, as they felt they would break.
The headache I first experienced before the onset of the fever returned, and joint pain continued for months to come. I felt continuously run down, exhausted and like I had a constant fever (I could only describe it as feeling extremely hot on the inside, as rarely did I ever actually have a measurable fever). I sought the expertise of doctor after doctor, but was consistently told there was nothing that could be done and that I surely had just a simple virus.
Months later, while having my annual mammogram, I was laying on the table for an exam and the doctor’s assistant looked at me with alarm in her eyes, asking what I was sick with. I looked at her surprised and said “nothing, why?”
Apparently the lymph nodes in my underarms that she examined were reminiscent of something more serious and she insisted that I have a full set of lab work done immediately. Fast forward to the phone call from the lab, “Do you have the Epstein Barr virus?” the man on the other end of the phone asked. It turns out that Epstein Barr virus is the same thing as the very common mono, which I had experienced as a teenager (don’t share your teammates’ water bottles!). As it turns out, the virus lays dormant after you’ve contracted it, and in situations where your immune system is challenged (such as having chikungunya), it flares up again like a monster.
My levels were way above normal, and it was put on a regiment of vitamins to help boost my immunity, which I was unable to tolerate. For three months, I attempted to take my daily vitamins and each time, I was unable to keep any of them down.I spent the next six months struggling to find a way through this, and a way out of constantly feeling completely unlike myself. I was unable to continue my love of running as a form of stress relief and exercise. In fact, I was unable to muster the energy level or stamina for boot camp and Pilates. Sadly, even yoga was impossible.
THE ROAD BACK
Because I was not getting better and felt that our current location was not allowing me to fully heal and rest, we moved our family to Singapore with the hopes that I could start to recover. The combination of exercise being eliminated from my diet by necessity, mixed with depression over constantly feeling poorly and the inability to function like a normal human being began to take its toll. I quickly gained more than 20 lbs and struggled with even getting a good night of sleep, let alone have a productive day.
After a year in Singapore, a year back in the USA (Florida) and now living in Virginia, I have finally reached a point where I very rarely feel that “inside fever” anymore. I decided to eliminate gluten from my diet and follow a “half-ass paleo” diet (dubbed as such because I refuse to give up wine and cheese). The combination of a change in my eating habits, the use of essential oils and proactively drinking half my weight in ounces of water every day, I have slowly seen my system reset itself. I’ve recently noticed a span of 4-5 months of time between getting sick and my enlarged lymph nodes situation has begun to majorly calm down!
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Chikungunya is no longer a disease of the tropics. It has made its way to the United States and the CDC is now intently investigating the disease and searching for treatment opportunities. Please know that the disease is – at the moment – something that can only be battled on an individual basis by protecting yourself from the mosquito bite in the first place. Not everyone who contracts chikungunya will experience such a long recovery, but if you have an already compromised immune system or other health issues, you will be attacked with greater force and the symptoms will last much longer than others, even to the extent of 2-3 years!
You may not want to expose you or your family members to the chemicals used in most mosquito spray, so you may want to consider a natural bug spray recipe from Casey Wiegand or the recipe straight from Young Living.
I doubt the United States will take up the practice of mosquito fogging like they do in India and Singapore, but the disease isn’t going anywhere. It’s just showing its face and because of this, the job of protecting yourself is left to YOU.
Cover up when you go outdoors, spray yourself down and light those citronellas!
NAOMI HATTAWAY is the founder of 8th & Home, a boutique relocation and real estate company. After living abroad in New Delhi and Singapore, she now resides with her family in Northern Virginia and seeks to daily impact her little corner of the world. Writing about moving, life with itchy feet and living your best life at Naomi Hattaway : Dot Com, you can follow her on Instagram or chat her up on Twitter.