What is 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 fever 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 approximately 390 million people worldwide infected with the dengue virus each year.
Dengue fever can be commonly found in urban parts of subtropical and tropical areas, such as Central and South America, parts of Africa, parts of Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Dengue is just as prevalent in urban districts of its range as in rural areas (unlike malaria). However, researchers from the Nagasaki Institute of Tropical Medicine in Japan reported in PLoS Medicine that people living in rural areas have a higher risk of dengue virus infection than city dwellers.
A symptom is something the patient feels or reports, while a sign is something that other people, including the doctor detects. A headache may be an example of a symptom, while a rash may be an example of a sign. As there are different severities of dengue fever, the symptoms can vary.
Many people, especially children and teens, may experience no signs or symptoms during a mild case of dengue fever. When symptoms do occur, they usually begin four to 10 days after you are bitten by an infected mosquito. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever most commonly include:
- Fever, as high as 106 F (41 C)
- Muscle, bone and joint pain
- Pain behind your eyes
You might also experience:
- Widespread rash
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rarely, minor bleeding from your gums or nose
Most people recover within a week or so. In some cases, symptoms worsen and can become life-threatening. Blood vessels often become damaged and leaky. And the number of clot-forming cells (platelets) in your bloodstream drops. This can cause:
- Bleeding from your nose and mouth
- Severe abdominal pain
- Persistent vomiting
- Bleeding under the skin, which might look like bruising
- Problems with your lungs, liver and heart
When to see a doctor
If you've recently visited a region in which dengue fever is known to occur and you suddenly develop a fever, see your doctor. Diagnosing dengue fever can be difficult, because its signs and symptoms can be easily confused with those of other diseases — such as malaria, leptospirosis and typhoid fever. Your doctor will likely ask about your medical and travel history. Be sure to describe international trips in detail, including the countries you visited and the dates, as well as any contact you may have had with mosquitoes. Certain laboratory tests can detect evidence of the dengue viruses, but test results usually come back too late to help direct treatment decisions.
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.