Chikungunya – you cannot begin to imagine …

Some friends and blog readers know that I came down with a mosquito-borne virus, Chikungunya, shortly after I returned to Bequia in July. This virus had been moving through the community at a fast pace until now, just about everyone on the island has either been suffering with it or is attending to someone who is suffering with it. The only doctor on the island was run off his feet seeing and treating patients, although other than recommending Paracetamol for fever and pain, and Histol for the rash, there was nothing more he could prescribe. Rest, and when you think you might be getting better, more rest. A friend who had spent the winter on Bequia didn’t come down with Chikungunya until the day she went back to Canada for the summer. Somehow she had managed to protect herself from mosquito bites until that last week, but then she was hit by it hard and it’s really affected the quality of her life.

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Here’s what happened to me … I returned to Bequia on July 14th and must have been bitten that night (the virus takes 5 to 7 days to incubate), because I began feeling achy joints and feverish on the 19th – and Dennis had just left that morning for his trip to Canada. I went to bed early that night and did not have a good sleep, so not only was I not rested on the Sunday morning, but I could barely move around the house on my own, let alone make something to eat. One of the other symptoms though is a lack of appetite. I received a lot of sympathy from Dennis’s staff of gardeners and housekeepers, because they had all suffered with the virus at one time or another during the spring. At least I knew they knew I was here alone and offered to help me, if I needed anything. The fever only lasted two days and I have never even felt headachy since then. But the joint pain has increased steadily over the weeks to the point where it has been debilitating at times. I had the full-body rash, as well, but that went away again within 24-hours. What a sight, though! Red splotches over my entire body! Funny that it wasn’t itchy, either. Just unsightful.

I’ve had Dengue Fever before. In fact, Dennis and I both had it at the same time, and it was all we could do to get out of bed for a glass of water. Thank goodness the cats insisted we get up to feed them! Dengue is known as “break bone fever” because you feel as though your bones will crack if you move in the slightest. But what I remember vividly of that illness was the incredible head-pounding headaches and high fevers we suffered. I did not, thankfully, experience anything like that with Chikungunya. And Dengue only lasted about 2-3 weeks for us (although it is possible to catch Dengue a second or third time).

It’s the pain in my joints and the bones themselves that is making Chikungunya unbearable for me, and for everyone else I’ve spoken with who has had this. I’m now into the fifth week since I contracted it, and there does not seem to be an end in sight. I sometimes feel better and think it’s going away and then it just hits me twice as hard the next day. Sometimes my fingers are swollen and cramped up so badly that I can’t even type. (I have not been able to write with pen and paper at all!) Other days, it’s my knees that won’t work properly and I can’t get out of bed or stand up from a chair without help. Always, always, though, I have had an unbelievable pain in my right bicep that is not in the joint and not in the muscle, but feels as though it’s right in the centre of the bone. Of course, I’m right-handed, and I don’t have enough strength in this arm to lift and carry, or even to just do small things, like brush my teeth or hair. It’s difficult to dress myself (so I remained in pajamas most of the time, until it felt a little too much like I was lounging around the place …), or to hold and drink a glass of water, and definitely impossible to write. The pain is much worse at night when you would think that relaxing and sleeping might help. That’s when the numbness in my hands begins and it’s near impossible to get settled into a comfortable position let alone fall asleep. Even then, if I move the wrong way, I scream out in pain, waking up Dennis and the cats (although I’m now not screaming in sheer agony the way I was the first few nights …). Sometimes a hot water bottle helps, but generally I just have to hope I’ll fall asleep deeply enough that I won’t be restless at all. Taking a couple of Gravol sometimes help, but is no guarantee I will sleep.

The other problems I’ve noticed is that I’m not steady on my feet, but I also can’t sit for long periods of time, either. I need to get up and walk around just to increase the circulation again and to stop the numbness in my hands. And then there’s the lack of any exercise, because I just haven’t got the energy, and that lack of exercise is causing my calf and arm muscles to waste away. It’s becoming noticeable. And why-oh-why is this not causing my butt and thigh muscles to waste away, I ask you???? There is no justice!

The worst of it is that my mental capacities are strained. I’m lethargic and I find I’m forgetting more than usual, am not able to concentrate or even focus on anything, and this is the most I’ve written at a stretch that is more than a Facebook status update or short email. I can read, thank goodness, but I’m not sure I’m really retaining all that much.

It’s been a very frustrating 5 weeks, let me tell ya! And when I speak with others, that’s what they all say, too. We’re more incapacitated than feeling really sick. But we’re angry with feeling this way for such a long time. (Some have had these same symptoms I describe for 12 weeks or more already.) And, especially knowing that there’s really nothing we can take to alleviate the discomfort, we’re angry. The ONLY consolation we have is in knowing we can never catch Chikungunya again.

And, fortunately for me, Dennis has never caught it. He’s been looking after me all this time, since he returned from Canada. I would not have been able to survive on my own, that’s for sure. Those cats still need to be fed, regardless of how bad we may feel!

So that’s my Chikungunya story and an explanation as to why I’ve been so quiet on this blog of late. Today I have to say I feel a bit better than yesterday, but even while typing this, I’ve had to be careful of my right arm and the way I hold it. It’s beginning to become painful again now, so I will quit this. My right thumb is going numb, too. I just hope I’ll be able to fly back to Canada again at the beginning of Sept. I can’t imagine travelling anywhere, let alone on planes, feeling the way I feel right now.

Here are links that you might find interesting. And, please note, this virus is only transmitted by two varieties of mosquitoes that thrive in tropical climates. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sakes, that it does not begin to mutate in any way and spread even further than it already has!

From Wikipedia

Canadian Travel Advisory

Caribbean 360

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26 responses

  1. […] first contracted Chikungunya, 5 days after arriving back on Bequia. (I previously wrote about this here, here, here, here, here and here.) A VERY long 15 weeks!! I can honestly say though that this past […]

  2. […] been researching this virus, you may be interested in reading the 4 previous posts I published: Chikungunya – you cannot begin to imagine …, Papaya Leaf Juice … right under our noses!, Blame it on the Chikungunya …, Stop hiding the […]

  3. […] of fellow-sufferers who now keep in contact with me, and all because I wrote about this virus in the first place on this blog. People from the UK, St. Martin, Grenada, upper New York State, Dominica, Texas, Newfoundland and […]

  4. Did you by any chance fly Westjet to Toronto on the 14th of July?

    1. No, Shani, I always fly Air Canada. And I was returning from Toronto to Bequia that day. Didn’t catch Chikungunya until that evening at the earliest.

  5. […] fellow-sufferer of the Chikungunya virus posted a comment on this blog yesterday on one of the three posts I had written previously. She’s an American who had picked up the virus […]

  6. Oh, Susan, I didn’t know that you had been sick. I certainly hope you are feeling a lot better. It was a pleasure to have you on my blog. You are a very special person the way you support others. It is nice to have you for a new friend. Blessings for good health.

    1. Thanks, Janice. I am feeling somewhat better, but the big test will be whether I can travel today. I should be okay.

  7. […] just over 6 weeks since I contracted Chikungunya, the mosquito-borne tropical virus I wrote about here and here. I began taking the papaya leaf juice again last week and have been drinking it for four […]

    1. Hi! I also have been battling Chikungunya for 7 weeks now after being in Puerto Rico…
      Incapacitating! To say the least! I’ve had it!
      Where did you get Papaya leaf juice??
      I live in upstate New York.
      Thank you!
      Wishing continued improvement…
      Amy

      1. So sorry to hear you’ve had this virus, too, Amy! It’s now 8 weeks for me, but I am beginning to feel better. I was still in the Caribbean until about a week ago, so was able to pick fresh papaya leaves from our property. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can get anything comparable in North America. I am finding though that the cooler temperatures in Ontario are better for me than that continuing heat and humidity of Bequia. I hope you are finding the same in New York State. I will post more information about the virus here on my blog as I receive it, so please do keep reading. Thanks for commenting now, and I wish you all the best that the virus is over soon for you.

  8. Susan

    I was in Bequia with my wife and children over Easter celebrating a big birthday. We loved the island, the people and fantastic setting. I even managed to read your book whilst there and we were able to visit most of the places mentioned courtesy of Uncle Bill’s Taxi.

    Despite taking the usual precautions we got bitten quite a bit. At the time chikungunya hadn’t really started to take hold so there was no real awareness. I was bitten on the last day quite a bit at the airport at Paget’s farm as our plane was delayed.

    When we got back to the UK I had flu like symptoms which to be honest were no different to seasonal flu except for the aches particularly in my feet, hands/fingers, ankles and knees together with general non specific aches in my arms and legs. I also had the rash but only on my hand and arm.The flu type symptoms cleared up quickly but the aches and pains persisted. It took a while for the doctors here to get to the bottom of it but they tested and confirmed chikungunya.

    Reading your blog it all sounds so familiar. Initially I had real problems with my feet and ankles, so much so that I have fallen down the stairs a couple of times and fallen over in the street. Like you I really have struggled to sleep with quite severe pain in my hand or knees either stopping me sleeping or waking me as the joints stiffen. It also seemed quite random, one day my hands would be fine but it would be my knees or ankles the next day it would switch around. Sitting was a real problem as my joints would seize in my knees and feet making it really hard not just to stand up but also to walk. Luckily I never seem to have had any of the cognitive problems.

    The doctors advised taking ibuprofen which did ease things but obviously was no cure. My doctor also made contact with a tropical disease specialist with experience of this in India who did say, despite what you read, it will go, which was really encouraging.

    This continued for about three months and I just began to wonder whether this was it and I was stuck with it for ever. Over the last month things have got significantly better and I’d say I am around 95% there. It still aches in the morning and there’s invariably pain in my hand or toes or just general arm or leg aches but most of the time I don’t notice it. Last week I even managed to chase the dog! It go colder here a couple of weeks ago for a week and it really did help. I was also advised to tale cod liver oil and have taken a vitamin D supplement( those fizzy orange tablets that dissolve in water). I am not sure whether any of this actually works or was the reason for the improvement or its just coincidence but I am still taking them.

    Your experience and symptoms sound so similar I hope that yours follows the same path.

    In the UK no one has this or has heard of it so its really helped me just to read your blog.

    Fingers crossed your improvement continues.

    Ashley

    1. Ashley, I am so sorry to hear that you caught this nasty virus, but glad you found my blog post and were able to take some comfort in reading of my similar situation. I too have found that speaking with others who are suffering has helped – like my friend back in Canada who also contracted it the day she left Bequia. While I am still not much better since posting this, I do find I am improving, every day. I plan to return to Canada in another week and hope that, as you said, the cooler weather has a healing effect. I have been trying the local remedy of drinking juice made from papaya leaves, but it seems to have made no difference. We think that this treatment should have been begun when I first came down with Chikungunya.

      We’ve heard from a friend in St. Vincent who is suffering from her second bout of this. She didn’t realize at the time (soon after the Christmas floods in Buccament during which she lost her car and the house where she’d been living) that it was Chikungunya everyone in the valley was suffering from, and not a flu due to bad water after the flooding. So the virus has actually been around much longer than reported–and before it began showing up in Bequia at Easter-time. It just had not been diagnosed as such. Unfortunately, the government’s only attempt to stop the mosquitoes was by using a fogging machine in Bequia with ineffective insecticides (we have even more mosquitoes now than we had during the dry season around Easter). And the government has continued to claim that this was always a Bequia problem – until recently, when many more people on St. Vincent began contracting the virus. Now it’s suddenly become of national importance to rid the country of mosquitoes – by fogging again. Too little, too late, I’m afraid.

      We also have another Bequia friend who had to delay his return to England, because he was so sick with this virus. So there is at least one other person in your country suffering with it.

      As for the Vitamin D, I’ve been in the habit of taking large doses (4000 mg. a day) for more than 10 years now, so while I believe it to be a necessary vitamin, I doubt it has had any effect on fighting my Chikungunya.

      It’s now been 7 weeks for me (and 9 for my friend in Canada). We’ve heard from others, like yourself, who began noticing they were recovering after about 3 months. I’m going to continue taking the papaya leaf juice while I can still get it here on Bequia, and hope that the travel I’ve organized for myself won’t be too onerous.

      Meanwhile, we have a massive rainstorm passing through Bequia this morning, complete with lightning and thunder! It’s pleasant sitting out on the verandah (although I have to keep wiping off the computer screen as the rain blows in), but this much rain falling can only result in one thing – more mosquitoes breeding! What the island truly needs is a massive cleanup of all wet places and standing water, so that we can finally be rid of these Chikungunya-bearing pests! Unfortunately, it’s just not good enough to tell people they must cover up and use insect repellant and insecticides.

      And finally, I want to thank you, Ashley, for having read my book! That alone makes me feel so much better!

      Here’s hoping we all recover from this virus very soon!

      Susan

  9. I’m hoping by now that you’re well on the road to recovery Susan and that the pain has gone.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    1. Thank you, David. Every day is still a challenge, but I’ve had two good nights in a row so am hoping for better times.

  10. […] other day, I posted Chikungunya – you cannot begin to imagine … to explain what it is we’ve all been going through while suffering from this mosquito-borne […]

  11. Thinking of you, Susan. Feel better soon.

  12. I’m so sorry you’re having to suffer through this. I hope you’re fully recovered soon.

  13. Really sorry to hear this! And all you’ve been doing from the sickbed without complaint!

    Is there an IronWoman Award I can nominate you for? 😉

    1. Thanks, Kevin! I’d be happy if someone figured out how to rid the world of mosquitoes!

  14. Sue, I had no idea you were doin’ the Chikungunya shuffle too. I am so sorry! No doubt you read my blog post about it on Ti Domnik Tales a few months ago. I was co-infected with CHIK and Dengue in April, and also the cat was failing and subsequently died in the midst of it all. It is a terrible infection and is very incapacitating. It’s four months now since I succumbed and I can see slow improvement – so don’t despair – you will get better. When I am tired, symptoms are more pronounced. I must say the initial high fever for five days really frightened me – it was all I could do to feed the cat . When he died, a friend helped me a lot, otherwise I don’t know what I would have done as I could barely move. It was so painful – especially my wrists, knees and ankles. Curiously, when I was recently in Canada, I was not so aware of my symptoms. I wonder if the cooler, less humid weather helped me – or maybe I was distracted by all my good times there! Take good care, and know that the symptoms will subside – slowly, but surely!

    1. Thanks, Gwen! My symptoms are nowhere near as bad as what you described of yours. But I know many more people who are suffering much more than both of us. It hits everyone different. I understand, too, that Dominica has had the highest rate of infection in all the Caribbean. I hope this passes soon for all of us (and you might be right about the cooler temp. and lower humidity in Canada having an adverse effect on the symptoms).

      1. Yes, it is a terrible affliction and some people in Dominica were hospitalized. I am thankful I was not one of them and I wish all sufferers a complete recovery as soon as possible! There seems to be fewer cases here now, although I keep running in to people who have recently contracted it. Mother Nature is definitely in charge! Best wishes for your complete recovery too!

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