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Dengue Fever Dengue Fever
Perhaps you've seen it in a warning in a travel book like the Lonely Planet, or heard about it on a TV show or... Dengue Fever

by Kimberly Allen, RN

Perhaps you’ve seen it in a warning in a travel book like the Lonely Planet, or heard about it on a TV show or news report, but few of us know what Dengue Fever is and how it spreads.

Dengue fever is a viral illness that is more commonly found in the tropics and subtropics.  Since WWII dengue fever has been seen in over 110 countries and the incidence has steadily increased.  In fact the number of dengue fever cases has increased 30 fold since 1960.  Currently the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are at least 100 million people worldwide diagnosed with dengue fever every year, resulting in at least a half million hospitalizations and approximately 25,000 deaths every year.  many experts believe the increase is due to the increased ability to travel and the increase in tourism to areas like the Caribbean especially during the winter months when people are looking to escape the cold winter if only for a short time.
Dengue fever can be caused by four separate yet closely related members of the Flaviridae family which is also responsible for several other viral illnesses like West Nile virus and yellow fever.  These viruses are referred to as DENV 1-4 and each one can cause dengue fever.  Because there are four different viruses that can cause dengue fever you can have it more than once.  You will build antibodies against only the one that is causing your current episode of dengue fever, but you can still get it caused by one of the other three.
The dengue viruses are transmitted to humans  primarily through mosquitoes though there have been rare cases of transmission through blood transfusion or organ transplant from an infected donor as well as maternal transfer to her fetus.  dengue fever can affect anyone at any time, however, those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk not only for developing the disease but a much more severe form known as Dengue Hemorrhagic fever.
In 2009 the WHO classified dengue fever into two groups; uncomplicated and severe.  In uncomplicated dengue fever the symptoms usually appear suddenly approximately 4-7 days after being bitten and usually lasts approximately a week to 10 days.  The most frequently complained of symptoms seen in this type are called the “dengue triad”.  headache, fever, and rash,  in addition to these many also complain of joint and muscle pain as well as swollen  glands and extreme fatigue.  The more severe form known as dengue hemorrhagic fever includes those symptoms, except they’re more severe, as well as bleeding in your gums and nose, easy bruising and black stools.  Respiratory and intestinal symptoms like sore throat and cough as well as nausea and vomiting and abdominal pain.  This type of dengue fever can be life threatening, especially in children and people with compromised immune systems.
Dengue fever is a viral infection, that means antibiotics are not going to help.  The treatment of uncomplicated dengue fever is focused on symptom relief.  this means rest and plenty of fluids as it’s very important to stay hydrated.  Acetaminophen and/or codine can be given for the headaches as well as the joint and muscle pains.  NSAID’s or aspirin should not be used unless closely monitored by your Dr due to the increased potential for bleeding.  Treatment for dengue hemorrhagic fever is always in a hospital where you can be closely monitored and given intravenous fluid replacements.
The best way to prevent dengue fever is by avoiding mosquito bites by using repellent that contains DEET.  Wearing long pants and sleeves as well as avoiding the outdoors in the early morning and early evening hours when the mosquitoes usually feed.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at