Connection between viral illnesses and joint and leg pain

Many illnesses like chikungunya and dengue are often associated with viral infections. When the body is fighting such an illness, it triggers an immune response to combat the condition.

This immune response can sometimes lead to autoimmunity, where the body mistakenly targets its own proteins in addition to the viral particles. The immune system may fail to distinguish between viral proteins and our own proteins, leading to an autoimmune reaction. This can result in various symptoms. Viral illnesses typically subside within a few days, but the immune response can persist for a longer duration, ranging from a month to six months.

ILLNESSES: Symptoms

Viral fevers manifest with multiple symptoms, and the specific virus causing the infection plays a crucial role.

These viruses typically lead to symptoms such as fever, headache, and severe body pain. Leg pain, in particular, is frequently associated with viremia, which refers to the presence of the virus in the blood. The immune response to the virus often originates from the gut and intestines, leading to symptoms in the lower abdomen. Many people experience sudden weakness, pain, or leg cramps. Typically, after two to three days, significant leg pain sets in. If this pain continues for ten days or more, it may be related to muscle involvement, known as myalgia or myositis.

Myalgia And Myositis:

Myalgia refers to muscle pain, while myositis signifies muscle inflammation, which can persist as a post-viral complication. Myalgia typically resolves within one to two weeks, while myositis can lead to muscle inflammation lasting for up to two months. Some patients may also experience complications like thrombocytopenia (low platelets) and elevated liver enzymes. It’s important to note that not all viral infections are equally severe; the severity can depend on various factors, including how patients care for themselves during the initial stages of the illness. It’s crucial to maintain proper hydration and nutrition, rather than starving during a viral fever. Scientifically, doctors recommend consuming easily digestible food and adequate hydration. If your fever persists beyond three days, it’s essential to contact a doctor and follow their guidance. Rest and hydration are the best treatments for viral fever, despite misconceptions that persist in some communities.

Management:

Treatment primarily focuses on controlling the inflammatory process. Joint pain is more common than leg pain in these cases. Individuals with pre-existing conditions like rheumatoid arthritis are more susceptible to these reactive pains, which can last for an extended period. The treatment is generally symptomatic, but individuals with significant pain and swelling may benefit from a short course of anti-inflammatory steroids. Continuous monitoring is essential for those with pre-existing conditions.

Dr Naresh Purohit  is Advisor  (Advisor , National Communicable Disease Control Programme. The views expressed here are of the author)

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