Dengue Fever

malaria mosquito biting skin

By Lindsay Lafreniere

Dengue fever is bad news, and a lot of unlucky backpacking travelers end up with it every year.

You are in paradise. Swimming in a tropical ocean, lazing away the afternoon in a hammock, and taking that dive course you’ve always wanted to do, when suddenly, you have a high fever, sever headaches, nausea, pain all over and rashes. You have been bitten by a mosquito carrying the dengue virus.

Dengue is a widespread virus in many parts of the world. It has received far less attention than malaria, but can also develop into a potentially fatal condition. Many travelers to tropical countries do not realize the likelihood of being infected by dengue. While it is rare for a healthy adult to develop dengue hemorrhagic fever, getting the dengue virus can definitely put a damper on your travel plans.

The Dengue Virus

The symptoms of dengue fever develop four to six days after receiving the virus. The virus is transferred from person to person by female Aedes mosquitoes. This mosquito has a white spotted body and legs; it breeds in clean water and bites during the day, with the highest intensity being two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset.

Generally there is a sudden onset of fever accompanied by aches and pains. There is usually nausea or vomiting that can last for five to seven days. With the dengue virus, a rash generally appears on the body. This distinguishes the illness from other common traveler ailments.

A major complication of the dengue virus is dengue hemorrhagic fever (DMF). DMF can occur after the initial fever has come down, when the person believes they are getting better, and can have severe consequences. DMF usually begins with intense abdominal pain and can have symptoms of vomiting, black stools and bleeding of the skin, nose, gums and intestinal tracts. In severe cases, there can be circulatory failure, convulsions and even death. But DMF very rarely develops in healthy adults. Usually those with weakened immune systems, such as children and seniors, are more likely to develop DMF after acquiring the dengue virus.

Dengue Fever

There are four strains of the dengue virus. Recovery from dengue fever results in immunity to that one strain of the virus. But subsequent infections of the virus can result in greater chances of developing DMF. Many people report a second case of dengue fever to have much more severe symptoms than the first.

Treatment for Dengue

The treatment of the symptoms of dengue fever is simple – rest, drink lots of fluids (with rehydration salts working best) and eat nutritious food. Paracetamol, or Tylenol, can be used to decrease fever and joint pain. But aspirin and brufen should never be used, as they increase the risk of bleeding. Complete recovery from dengue fever can take up to one month.

If you start to feel worse or believe you may be suffering from DMF, go to the doctor or nearest hospital immediately.

Prevention Tips to Avoid Dengue Fever

There are currently no available medications that create immunity to the dengue virus. The best prevention is ensuring that mosquitoes do not bite you, which is beneficial as it also lowers your risk of acquiring malaria. Wear mosquito repellent with a high level of DEET. Put repellent on at the beginning of each day, as mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus bite during the day, and reapply as needed.

Make sure to sleep under a mosquito net, especially in the wet season and in bungalows that are not fully enclosed. If infected with the dengue virus, continue to rest under a mosquito net at all times. This ensures that you do not transfer the virus to another traveler by way of a shared mosquito.

Global Occurrences

The global incidents of dengue fever have greatly increased in the past few decades. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that before 1970, only nine countries were regarded as endemic, but now it is prevalent in more than 100 countries. This is thought to be the result of increased mosquito populations in cities and increased use of airplanes for travel. Many also believe that climate change is to blame, as a result of the now warmer, wetter weather, which promotes mosquito breeding.

Dengue fever is most prevalent in Central and South America, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. WHO believes that 2.5 billion people are at risk for developing dengue fever and an estimated 50 million dengue infections occur each year. In 2007, Indonesia reported 127.687 cases of dengue fever and a whopping 1296 deaths.

The main way that dengue is being controlled is by management of mosquito populations. The fogging of insecticide is an expensive endeavor that is generally done only after an epidemic. The main method of control is to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds – any containers of clean, still water. Education is essential though in ensuring that people understand the risks of the illness and what preventative measures they can undertake.

Meet the Author:

Lindsay comes from Canada and has endured intense humidity, chaotic traffic, noisy children, and the spiciest food she’s ever eaten for the opportunity to live and work as an English teacher in Thailand for a year. The weekends away at the beach made it all worth it!