Dengue fever symptoms and treatment:
Mosquito-borne illnesses are well-known to all. West Nile virus has caused several deaths in the United States, and malaria is a familiar, frightening word for its deadly nature in jungle climates.
Dengue fever, however, infects approximately 50 million aults each year in the tropics, and while it is estimated that Dengue is lethal in less than 1 percent of its victims, it can incapacitate its victims for weeks with pain, discomfort and nausea.
There is, also, no specific treatment or vaccine for Dengue fever. It is carried by only four species of mosquito. The good news is a patient, once infected with a specific strain of Dengue fever, becomes immune to that strain for life. The bad news is that he remains susceptible to the other three, and a bout with a second strain of Dengue tends to be worse than the first.
With no treatment or vaccine for the virus, it is imperative that the symptoms of the disease be treated. Left unchecked, the illness can progress to the stage known as Dengue Hemorrhagic fever, which brings about internal bleeding, followed often by shock. For this reason, Dengue Hemorrhagic fever has a much higher mortality rate than initial Dengue, as high as 30 percent.
Dengue fever is endemic only to tropical climates, but travelers to such places can spread the disease in temperate areas during warmer months. If a traveler is bitten by an infected mosquito, then returns home, and is bitten by a second mosquito, that formerly healthy mosquito is now a carrier and will infect the next person it bites.
As with other mosquito-borne illnesses, it is best to avoid contact with mosquitoes. Those who live in tropical climates should protect themselves from Dengue fever by using insect repellants such as DEET, or insecticides, or by reducing the population of mosquitoes in their area by the use of mosquito traps, which interrupt the insects’ breeding cycle.
Symptoms of Dengue fever typically include a rapid onset and recurrence of a very high fever, nausea, dehydration, exhaustion and persistent and extreme headache and joint pain. Internal bleeding is a symptom of the latter stage, Dengue hemorrhagic fever.
Dengue fever once bore the name “breakbone fever,” a descriptive nickname derived from the extreme joint and muscle pain and headaches that often accompany the illness. As with any viral illness that carries flu-like symptoms, patients with Dengue fever typically suffer from exhaustion, but some patients have described pain so severe that sleep becomes impossible for several days. This makes the attendant exhaustion that much worse and has even caused delirium in some patients.
As there is no specific Dengue fever medication, the best course of action is to treat the symptoms. However, neither aspirin nor any other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug should be used to treat the pain of Dengue fever. These products can be very dangerous in patients who are experiencing the internal bleeding of Dengue hemorrhagic fever, exacerbating the loss of blood. A pain killer, however, is obviously appropriate. Acetaminophen is the recommended treatment. It is available over the counter, both generically and as the active ingredient in Tylenol.
Dengue fever patients will often see their body temperatures rise rapidly, return to normal just as quickly, and then rise again. A patient’s body temperature often will reach as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The first spike in temperature usually lasts about two days, followed by a day of normal temperatures during which a patient will feel well, only to see that temperature rise again and remain elevated for a few more days.
As with any high-fever illness, dehydration, “burning eyes” and heavy sweating are normal symptoms.
It is important that Dengue fever patients try to drink plenty of fluids to stave off dehydration, which naturally can occur alongside such prolonged high body temperature. Patients who have trouble taking in enough liquid often require intravenous fluids to keep from becoming dehydrated.
A pink rash that covers much of the face, or a flushing of the skin on the face, is usually one of the initial signs of Dengue fever. This rash usually subsides quickly, but only to be replaced by a pervasive red rash that covers most of the body below the head, and can even cover the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Patients will usually feel nauseated as well, as Dengue fever often brings about gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach’s lining. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea are, therefore, frequent effects of the illness.
Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever:
While it is true that Dengue fever is fatal in less than 1 percent of patients, that number skyrockets to nearly 30 percent in patients who reach the point of Dengue hemorrhagic fever, or DHF. For those patients, hospitalization is usually necessary, as they could require intravenous fluids, or, for those whose blood platelets have dipped to too low a level, a transfusion.
DHF symptoms include easy bruising, blood spots on the skin, nosebleeds or bleeding gums, sore throat and cough. The risk of death in Dengue hemorrhagic fever patients is shock from blood loss, hence the need for observation and possibly transfusion.
The best way to avoid this debilitating illness is to avoid mosquito bites. Keep insect repellants on hand, and in areas with a large population of mosquitoes, invest in mosquito traps to significantly reduce the threat of mosquito bites.
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