Symptoms and treatment for Dengue Fever and more

Dengue fever is a common tropical illness that affects millions of people yearly. Simply put, the more infections you get, the greater your chances of progression to more the serious dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF).

Our 'What you need to know about Dengue' article generated a lot of questions in the message boards - so to further clarify the details of this devastating disease, our roving medical expert Dr. Erik McLaughlin has come back for a second round to answer your questions!

Perhaps one of the worst things to limit a traveler is heatlh. This is a conversation I have to have with patients on a regular and far too often basis. The traveler with severe lung disease that wants to trek to Everest Base Camp, a patient with seizure disorder that wants to SCUBA dive and the tropic bound patient with a history of severe dengue illness are common examples.

Dengue is the infectious agent in travelers coming home from the tropics with a fever in 2.9%-8% of the time, based on serologies (blood tests). In some case studies involving Geo-sentinel clinics, dengue is the second most comon cause of hospitalization after malaria, in travelers coming back from the tropics.

Before travel plans are cancelled, the tropics are avoided for life and mosquito-phobia sets in, let's look at Dengue and DHF from an epidemiological point of view.

What is Dengue, how many types are there and what are the symptoms?

Dengue is a flavavirus that has 4 different sero-types (dengue 1, 2, 3 and 4)

When someone gets infected with a specific sero-type of dengue they are then immune to that type for life. They can still be infected with any of the other three types. Interestingly, a person is immune to all types of dengue for the first 6-9 months after their first infection. Slowly, the immunity to the other types drops until the person is then succeptable to them as if they had no immunity at all. An individual can be infected up to four times in their lifetime.

When someone gets their initial infection with a dengue virus they often do not even notice the illness or simply attribute it to a mild "flu-like" illness. Runny nose, muscle aches, headaches, nausea and fevers are common symptoms. The characteristic dengue rash usually shows up on the 3rd day of illness. The traveler gets better and goes on with life.

If the traveler gets infected with another strain of dengue later in their life, they have an increased chance to progress to DHF. This is an illness characterized by an inability to clot blood and control vascular permeability. Bascially, the body begins to bleed uncontrollably and the veins and arteries "ooze" blood and fluid, everywhere. Untreated DHF carries up to a 50% mortality rate. If properly treated with intravenous fluids, knowledgable healthcare providers and an ICU environment, the mortality is less than 1%.

Approximately 1% of patients progress to DHF in their first infection, usually around 3-7 days after the fever starts. One study from Cuba showed 98.5% of patients with DHF had a prior dengue infection in their life. This same study also showed a DHF attack rate of 4.2% in those with a prior dengue infection who then were infected with a new serotype. Also, DHF affected white patients 5 x's more than black patients in this outbreak. This 1981 outbreak was caused by a SE Asian Dengue-2 strain.

Where is Dengue found…Exactly?

Dengue sero-types 1-4 are endemic in Africa.

Introduction and circulation of all 4 types of Dengue has been noted in the tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas since 1977.

Since the late 1990s at least two or more dengue strains have been endemic in virtually all of the Caribbean and Latin America.

Worldwide the most common sero-type is 2 followed by 3 and 4 with sero-type 1 being the most uncommon.

The Aedes mosquito is mainly associated with Dengue transmission. Aedes likes cities and urban locations much more that rural areas. Dengue is more a disease of the city that the country, as opposed to malaria.

I have never known a mosquito or a disease to respect an international boundry, line on a map or checkpoint.

I had dengue before, should I go back?

Ultimately, this is your decision.

How do you know you had dengue fever in the past? Did you get serologies and proper blood tests?

How severe was your illness, in the past?

Where are you going and what access to medical care do you have?

Are you going in the rainy season, peak mosquito time?

What are you doing there (hiking, sleeping outside, business meeting, etc?)

Do you REALLY understand insect bite precautions including DEET, permethrin and barrier devices?


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  • Maureen Preston said

    V. Interesting information.I had Dengue in Java & Bali a few tears ago. It was treated in the BIMC in Denpasar and I have been back again, much more pro active about DEET etc.

  • Dea said

    I had DHF ealier this year in Java Indonesia.
    I spent 1 week in hospital in Denpasar. My blodpalets dropped to 13 witch I felt was Very low.
    I didnt have bleeding , but wasnt allowed to move at all for 3 days to prevent it..
    Im wondering if I could have had dengue fever before in my life and not knowing ? ( I have spent more than 5 years in tropical places)
    I felt I got 'hit very hard' for a first time..
    I usually go to Indonesia once a year for a month for work (in the rainy season But would probably change that to dry season)
    Im a little concerned about going back, I thought I was going to die last time so dont want there to be a next time...
    How is the statistic of 3rd time dengue? does it get worse and worse?

  • kat said

    Is it crucial for one with Dengue to go to a Dr. or is it safe to just let it run its course? I read that there was no treatment for it so I figured no need to go to a Dr. Because he would probably just give me meds I can get myself over the counter such as a painkiller and fever reducer. I am feeling better now but after reading about the potential seriousness of it I wonder if I should still go to a Dr. even though most of my bad symptoms are gone now.

  • PIp said

    I have been trying to ascertain the plausibility of getting DHF more than once since I contracted DHF by DEN-1 in 2012. So far, I still have no answer. Somebody in the medical profession MUST KNOW if you can get it twice. My Doctor simply said "you will get very, very sick" and kept his cards close to this chest. I was very, very sick the first time with DSS so I can't see how I could get much sicker without dying.

  • Adriane said

    I lived in Cambodia for five years. I ended up in Bumrungrad hospital in Thailand, with Type 2 Dengue. Apparently through blood work they determined that I had also had a previous strain but were unable to determine the serotype. I believe it was through IGG blood test. I must have had symptoms for the first instance but it was not anything like when I had the second recurrence. The doctors told me that getting Type 2 the second time was very dangerous. I was in hospital for 5 days, on Intravenous and had Tylenol. My blood vessels were rupturing and I was very achy. There isn't much they can do for you but I would definitely recommend that you get competent medical treatment if your white blood cells drop. Thailand has amazing hospitals. Samitivvej is another hospital that is excellent. I too am worried about getting another strain, since there are two more I could possibly get.

  • Val mendoz said

    Hey adriane,

    Can you describe your second attack experience with dengue? I am a bit nervous because I'm having my second episode of dengue right now (currently hospitalized)

    My first attack was very scary I had DHF. Scared right now to have a mother DHF episode. They say the second attack is much worse.

    Currently on my 7th day. What should I expect? Does the second attack always mean DHF?

    Val Mendoza

  • Greg wall said

    I had hemorrhagic dengue fever and spent 10 days in hospital I'm
    N Thailand . I have not been back to Asia since but I am thinking about a business trip to Malaysia . My question is , what are my risks if I get dengue again. Is it likely to be DHS and dengue shock etc. am I immune from hemorrhagic dengue because I had it before or am I likely to get it more severe?
    Thank you

  • Merran said

    In August 2008 I arrived at Aggies Resort Samoa feeling excited about my two week holiday. I hadn't even put my suitcase down in the room 520, before along came a mosquito and bit me on the arm. It did not hurt, so being a Kiwi I thought it was a fly. That night I felt I was in a furnace, with someone banging my head against the wall. That went on for days, getting worse. I just wanted to sleep, and Panadol did nothing for the pain. I tried to enjoy the beautiful pool, and wide range of food. Eventually I could not carry on with any activities, this is indicated in the photo's taken of me. We had no transport, so a doctor was summoned from Apia's Saleufi Mall Medical Clinic. The diagnoses was Dengue Fever. No tests were done for me, just the doctor's experience I guess. I was told to rest. More pain killers prescribed which we had to obtain from Apia. Call out fee was $300.00, and examination $100.00. The $400.00 came out of my credit card and was reimbursed by my travel insurance. Two weeks at home later, I started to feel better.

  • Merran said

    Following on from above. Next to the resort was a bird sanctuary, which included a very stagnant pool of water with lots of airborne life buzzing above it. This was not what I would of expected near a resort. Later in the airplane, and coughing my heart out, a male passenger next to me asks, Have you got Dengue Fever? Answer was yes, of course. We had a long chat because he was Minister of Tourism. I asked him, did he want tourists or native birds? He laughed about that, but was concerned. I wonder now, has anything changed since 2008 or are the locals still going to get hounded about water in tins and tyres. What is the Government doing about the environment? How much money will they spend on this emergency? Samoa is a lovely place to visit, but never again for me. Shame! I have told lots of friends about my experience. Getting insect repellent smothered all over ones body, can never be the answer, because mosquito's are smart and survivors. Samoans are great, friendly people, most survive on nothing.

  • julina said

    what does dengue do to a person while it is dormant?
    i have had chronic fatuige since getting the dengue ten years ago
    and bloodwork shows my liver results are deranged.

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