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Dengue fever: Know the facts behind this major infectious disease

by , 29 October 2013

Last week, 18 men and nine women died in Honduras from one of the country's worst bouts of dengue fever. Now, dengue fever outbreaks are being reported in India, where 334 people have tested positive for the virus. But what is dengue fever? And how can you tell you have it? Today, we explore this issue…

Up until June, few South Africans had ever heard of dengue fever. But that all changed when SA hockey captain Austin Smith and player Jonty Robinson contracted the virus while on tour in Malaysia.

But here’s the scary part, because dengue fever is a mosquito-borne illness, it’s actually listed as one of Southern Africa’s most infectious diseases. Yet, very people even know it exists.

That changes today!

What is dengue fever?

“Dengue fever, also known as breakbone fever, is a mosquito-borne infection that causes a severe flu-like illness,” explains medicalnewstoday.com. This virus, which is closely related to the viruses that cause West Nile infection and yellow fever, is common in urban parts of subtropical and tropical areas in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. 

It’s so common, in fact, last year over 390 people reported infections around the world. Today, the World Health Organisation estimates that as much as two-fifths of the global population face the risk of contracting this virus. 

So it’s vital you know how to spot the signs… Especially if you travel to these regions often.

What are the symptoms of dengue fever?

According to webMD, symptoms, which usually begin four to six days after infection and last for up to ten days, include:

  • Sudden, high fever
  • Severe headaches
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Severe joint and muscle pain – this is where dengue fever lives up to its breakbone nickname. While the disease won’t actually break any bones, cautions kidshealth.org, it can feel like it is because of the joint and muscle pain.
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Skin rash, which appears three to four days after the onset of fever
  • Mild bleeding (such a nose bleed, bleeding gums, or easy bruising)

Sounds just like malaria, doesn’t it. And that’s what makes contracting dengue fever so dangerous. It’s hard to distinguish it from other illnesses.

If you contact dengue fever, what should you do?

Since dengue is a virus, there’s no specific treatment or cure – although in severe cases your doctor may order blood transfusions, a drip and an extended stay in hospital.

In less severe cases, bed rest should do the trick.

And while your first instinct to break your fever is to reach for aspirin don’t. This increases your chance of bleeding. Treat your pain and fever with acetaminophen instead.

Bottom line: If you become sick after traveling to a tropical area – especially if you’ve been to Honduras or India recently – let your doctor know. And ask him to run a blood test to check for tropical diseases like dengue fever.

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