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guide on dengue fever

Dengue is a virus spread by mosquitos mainly during daylight hours and is prevalent between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. Dengue is endemic in over 100 countries, and is particularly common in South-East Asia, India, the Caribbean, South and Central America, and Africa. It tends to occur in cities, particularly overcrowded populations, since humans act as a host for the virus. Infection with dengue viruses can cause a severe flu-like illness, dengue fever, or the potentially lethal dengue haemorrhagic fever. There is no specific treatment, except appropriate medical care. There is currently no vaccination available for dengue, so the only method for prevention is to avoid mosquito bites.

Dengue Fever is also known as breakbone fever due to the pain experienced in muscles and joints. It brings about a severe flu-like illness but is rarely fatal. Symptoms can include any of the following:

  • high fever that comes on quickly and lasts up to a week
  • muscle and joint aches
  • severe headaches
  • pain behind the eyes and sometimes sensitivity to light
  • bright red rash that starts on the chest, back or stomach before spreading
  • nausea and vomiting

Hospital treatment is rarely required and the body will fight off the virus by itself. Treatment should be paracetamol (avoid aspirin and ibuprofen which can worsen any bleeding) and drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration. The fever shouldn't last more than a week, though after effects such as tiredness and loss of appetite may last several weeks. Full recovery can be expected.

Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever (DHF) is a potentially life-threatening form of illness that requires early diagnosis and hospital treatment. The illness often begins with a sudden rise in temperature along with other flu-like symptoms as above. However, DHF symptoms notably include bleeding under the skin, from the gums or from the nose. Vomiting blood or passing blood in faeces are also signs of DHF. In more severe cases there may also be abdominal pain, sudden drop in temperature, convulsions and circulatory failure. However, with prompt and appropriate medical care the mortality rate is less than 1%.

Since there is no dengue vaccine, the only preventative measure is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos. The following advice should be followed:

  • Wear trousers and long sleeves where practical. Mosquitos are most active at dawn and dusk, but dengue carrying mosquitos bite at any time of day or night. Light coloured clothing is better as mosquitos are attracted to dark colours.
  • Exposed skin should be treated with insect repellent. Those containing the chemical DEET are not particularly kind to the skin and should not be applied to the face, but are the most effective and are therefore advised unless you have sensitive skin.
  • Air-conditioned accommodation is recommended as mosquitos don't like the cool air. Fans can help too, as they don't like the wind.
  • Keep windows closed if possible, or if open then covered with a fine mesh/mosquito net. Use a knock-down insecticide spray in the room at dusk and consider using a plug-in device during the night.
  • If sleeping outside or in simple accommodation where the aforementioned measures cannot be taken, then you should sleep under a mosquito net that is well tucked in beneath you. Nets treated with the chemical permethrin are the best.

Find out more:
UK Health Protection Agency
World Health Organisation

Note: Any of the above comments may be views of the author and not necessarily fact. Acting upon any of this advice is solely the responsibility of the reader.