Dengue Fever

Dengue fever, also known as breakbone fever, is a mosquito-borne infection that causes a severe flu-like illness. There are four different viruses that can cause dengue fever, all of which spread by a certain type of mosquito. Dengue can vary from mild to severe; the more severe forms include dengue shock syndrome and dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF). Patients who develop the more serious forms of dengue fever usually need to be hospitalized. There are currently no vaccines for dengue fever. The best way to prevent the disease is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes altogether. Although there is no certain treatment for dengue, it can be treated as long as it is caught before developing into dengue shock syndrome or dengue hemorrhagic fever.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • Approximately 2.5 billion people, or two-fifths of the world’s population, are now at risk from dengue.
  • The disease is now endemic in over 100 countries.
  • Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian countries.
  • In 2007, there were over 890,000 reported cases of dengue in the Americas, of which 26,000 cases were DHF.
  • Dengue infection rates among people who have not been previously exposed to the virus are commonly 40% to 50% during epidemics, but may sometimes reach 80% to 90%.
  • Approximately half-a-million people with DHF are hospitalized each year, of whom many are children. About 2.5% of these patients die.
  • DHF fatality reads may exceed 20% if untreated. If there is access to medical care with health care professionals trained in treating DHF, the death rate may be less than 1%.

Symptoms of Dengue Fever

Symptoms, which usually begin four to six days after infection and last for up to 10 days, may include

  • Sudden, high fever
  • Severe headaches
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Severe joint and muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Skin rash, which appears two to five days after the onset of fever
  • Mild bleeding (such a nose bleed, bleeding gums, or easy bruising)

Sometimes, symptoms are mild and can be mistaken for those of the fluor another viral infection. Younger children and people who have never had the infection before tend to have milder cases than older children and adults. However, serious problems can develop. These include dengue hemorrhagic fever, a rare complication characterized by high fever, damage to lymph and blood vessels, bleeding from the nose and gums, enlargement of the liver, and failure of the circulatory system. The symptoms may progress to massive bleeding, shock, and death. This is called dengue shock syndrome (DSS).

People with weakened immune systems as well as those with a second or subsequent dengue infection are believed to be at greater risk for developing dengue hemorrhagic fever.

The majority of people suffering from dengue fever get better within 2 weeks. However, some individuals can sufferfatigue and depression for months after the infection. Dengue fever can develop to harsher forms of the disease i.e. dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.

Diagnosis of dengue fever

The signs and symptoms of dengue fever are similar to some other diseases, such as typhoid fever or malaria, which can sometimes complicate the chances of a prompt and accurate diagnosis. In order for a doctor to properly diagnose dengue fever they will:

1) Assess the symptoms – the doctor will take into account all your symptoms to properly diagnose whether you have dengue. Some tests may be ordered to determine whether it is a dengue infection, or some other.

2) Blood sample – this sample can be tested in a laboratory in a number of ways to find signs of the dengue virus. If the dengue virus is detected diagnosis is straightforward; if this fails there are other blood tests which can identify antibodies, antigens and nucleic acids, including:

  • -ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay)
  • -HI assay (hemagglutination inhibition assay)
  • -RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction)

3) Assess your medical history – The doctor will need to know your travel history and medical history, especially if it involves mosquito exposure.

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