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Dengue fever: What you should know

Member Services
November 6, 2014
Categories: Health, Travel Tips

As the world focuses on Ebola, cases of another serious disease are on the rise around the world.  Dengue fever, which includes several variations including dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, has increased dramatically this year.  In Malaysia, for example, dengue fever cases have seen a threefold increase compared to the same period in 2013, according to the country's health ministry. There have been more than 80,578 reported cases of dengue fever throughout the country as of 18 October.

Cases have grown especially fast in China as well.  In the southern province of Guangdong, the number of reported cases jumped from 11,867 on 30 September to 21,527 cases on 6 October. As of 3 November, more than 43,000 cases have been reported.

With dengue fever also on the rise in the Americas, Mexico, and near the Texas border, it is imperative to be informed about the disease before traveling to any regions where you may be at risk.

Dr. Phil Seidenberg, Associate Medical Director with Global Rescue, shared some of the basic facts about dengue fever.

Like malaria, the disease is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. However, there are several key differences between the two diseases. 

“Dengue fever is a mosquito-transmitted illness, but it is viral, not parasitic. It is caused by a different mosquito than the type that causes malaria,” Seidenberg said.  Dengue-carrying mosquitos are more likely to bite during the daytime instead of at dusk and dawn, as the malaria-carrying insects do, and are even found in urban areas. There are currently no medications that can be taken to prevent dengue fever, so mosquito prevention is critical. 

If you have contracted dengue, the illness will surface in approximately 4-7 days from the initial mosquito bite.

Seidenberg outlined the most common symptoms, including:

  • -- Muscle or joint pain
  • -- Fever
  • --  Headaches (particularly behind the eyes)
  • -- Rash

Those who develop a more severe form of dengue fever may also experience:

  • -- Bruising and bleeding (particularly at pressure points, such as around waistbands)
  • -- Nosebleeds
  • -- Gastrointestinal bleeding

“The more severe form of dengue fever is referred to as dengue hemorrhagic fever, which causes these symptoms,” Seidenberg explained.  “With the more severe form, the platelet count drops, people bleed, liver enzymes go up, and people get a lot sicker.”  Adults are more at risk for dengue hemorrhagic fever than children, who often get much less sick once they’ve contracted the disease.  Those who have been exposed to or have contracted dengue previously are much more at risk for this form of the infection.  Seidenberg points out that dengue hemorrhagic fever is not the same type as some of the African hemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola.

Typical treatment for dengue fever includes treating the virus symptomatically, with hydration and Tylenol (not ibuprofen or aspirin) for normal cases.  In the case of hemorrhagic dengue, patients should seek hospital care to be monitored and given fluids.  Unfortunately, there is no way to treat the actual infection itself. Statistics vary, but approximately 80% of those infected experience fever and flu-like symptoms following an incubation period of 3 to 14 days.  These symptoms eventually resolve provided the patient rests and gets plenty of fluids.  The remaining 20% of patients can become severely ill, with symptoms including very high fevers, rashes, vomiting, intermittent consciousness and bleeding.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dengue fatality rates range from 1%-10% depending on the individual and the timing and appropriateness of the treatment rendered.

If you’re traveling, check-in with Global Rescue, review updated dengue information in our GRID travel intelligence system, and consult the CDC website for locations with high rates of dengue here. 

 


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