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What is Chikungunya test?

A chikungunya test evaluates for the presence and confirms the diagnosis of chikungunya virus or antibodies against this virus in blood. Chikungunya is a viral infection, which spreads through mosquito bites (Aedes aegypti). Once the virus enters the bloodstream, it brings about an immune reaction, producing the symptoms of chikungunya.

Chikungunya is a common disease of the tropical region, but now it has been found to have spread across the globe. It is categorised as a traveller’s disease. Common symptoms of chikungunya include fever and joint pain, which can last for a long duration.

  1. Why is a Chikungunya test performed?
  2. How do you prepare for a Chikungunya test?
  3. How is a Chikungunya test performed?
  4. What do Chikungunya test results indicate?

A chikungunya test is performed for detecting either the chikungunya virus or antibodies against this virus in the bloodstream.

This test is done to confirm chikungunya infection when the following symptoms are present:

  • High-grade fever
  • Joint pain, usually most joints in the body are affected by it (the knees, elbows, ankles, wrists and sometimes small joints of the fingers and toes)
  • Swollen joints
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Rash      
  • Rarely, chikungunya can cause nausea, vomiting and conjunctivitis (redness of eyes).

Symptoms of chikungunya usually begin 3-5 days after mosquito bites, and in certain cases, joint pain may become chronic and persists over 2 years.

To avoid delay in diagnosis and prevent the spread of this disease to nontropical countries, a chikungunya test is also performed in people who have travelled from a tropical region and experience the symptoms or even in patients who experience fever and weakness.

No special preparations are needed for this test.

It is a simple test that takes less than five minutes. A  laboratory specialist collects a blood sample from a vein in your arm by inserting a small needle. A small quantity of blood is then withdrawn into a sterile vial or a test tube. A momentary pricking pain is felt when the needle goes in the vein.

There is a minimal risk of pain, light-headedness and bruising at the site of injection with the test. However, at most times, these symptoms disappear quickly. Rarely, an infection may occur at the site of blood withdrawal.

Chikungunya test evaluates for three different fragments viz. antigen and antibodies IgM and IgG; their presence or absence can lead to different interpretations.

Normal results:

Absence of chikungunya antigen and IgM antibodies indicates that the person does not suffer from chikungunya, while the absence of IgG antibodies indicates that there was no previous infection by the virus.

Abnormal results:

Presence of chikungunya antigen indicates

  • Acute chikungunya infection
  • Chikungunya virus infection of duration 2-5 days
  • Confirms the diagnosis of chikungunya

Presence of chikungunya IgM antibodies signifies

  • Acute chikungunya infection
  • Recent chikungunya infection
  • Confirms the diagnosis of chikungunya

Presence of chikungunya IgG antibodies

  • Indicates a recent or past infection
  • Is helpful in diagnosing post-viral arthralgia of chikungunya (usually Chikungunya-related chronic joint pains)

Usually, a combination of chikungunya antigen and IgM antibodies confirms the diagnosis of chikungunya (for the current episode of fever). Presence of IgG antibodies usually indicates a previous infection of chikungunya and helps in confirming the reason for joint pain.

A combination of tests for IgM and IgG is used for travellers when they are returning to their homes from areas with a prevalence of chikungunya. Since chikungunya does not have any vaccination available, the only possible way of preventing the spread of this disease in a non-prevalent area is through isolation of the sufferer and that can be best achieved only if the condition is diagnosed on time.

Disclaimer: All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s complaints to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. The above information is provided from a purely educational point of view and is in no way a substitute for medical advice from a qualified doctor.

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Chikungunya by PCR

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References

  1. World Health Organization Fact sheet. Chikungunya
  2. Lab Tests Online. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; Travelers' Diseases
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services, Chikung Virus: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services, Chikungunya Virus: Diagnostic Testing
  5. Barbara W. Johnson, Brandy J. Russell, and Christin H. Goodman. Laboratory Diagnosis of Chikungunya Virus Infections and Commercial Sources for Diagnostic Assays. J Infect Dis. 2016 Dec 15; 214(Suppl 5): S471–S474. PMID: 27920176
  6. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Chikungunya virus