Health Care

What You Need to Know About Dengue Fever

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Most people in the United States who get dengue fever contract the virus while traveling, as it is most common in Southeast Asia, the western Pacific islands, Latin America and Africa. However, since the virus seems to be spreading to new areas — and since there have been recent, locally reported cases in some parts of the southern U.S. — it’s important to learn more about this mosquito-borne illness so you can protect your family.

What is Dengue Fever?

Dengue fever, also known as bone-break fever because of the bone and joint pain it causes, is an illness caused by the dengue virus. Humans can get it when infected mosquitos bite them, but fortunately, they don’t usually pass it from human to human.

Most cases of dengue fever happen in tropical and subtropical areas around the world, especially in cities and urban centers and during the rainy season — and according to the World Health Organization, nearly half of the world’s population is at risk for contracting the virus.

Symptoms of Dengue Fever

Most cases of dengue fever are mild and don’t cause noticeable symptoms. But it’s important to note that symptoms can show up several days, even sometimes weeks, after being infected.

Dengue fever can cause flu-like symptoms, including:

  • Headache
  • High fever (104 degrees Fahrenheit or above)
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain behind your eyes
  • Skin rash
  • Swollen glands

For people with mild dengue fever cases, most symptoms go away on their own after a few weeks.

Severe illness is more likely with a second dengue infection. And in some rare cases, symptoms can worsen. Patients with severe cases can experience more severe symptoms that develop quickly, such as:

  • Bleeding from your gums or nose
  • Bleeding under the skin that looks like bruising
  • Blood in your urine, stool or vomit
  • Difficult, rapid breathing
  • Extreme thirst signaling dehydration
  • Fatigue, weakness or restlessness
  • Intense abdominal pain
  • Pale, cold skin
  • Rapid drop in blood pressure

These rare and severe cases, referred to as dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome, as well as second infections, can cause organ damage or be life-threatening. That’s why people with severe symptoms should seek medical attention right away.

How is Dengue Fever Diagnosed?

It’s a good idea to see your doctor if you get sick within a month of traveling to a tropical area. With a simple blood test, we can help you rule out or confirm dengue fever and ensure there’s a plan to help you get well if you have it.

How to Prevent Dengue Fever

While dengue fever affects millions of people worldwide, there’s no specific treatment for it: for most, it’s simply about treating the pain with pain relievers like acetaminophen and getting extra rest. However, your care team may also administer IV fluids and electrolytes in more extreme cases.

Researchers are working on a vaccine, but it is currently only FDA-approved for children with a known previous dengue infection to protect against dangerous second infections. Still, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from mosquitos that could be carrying the virus (and other harmful diseases) by taking these precautions during outdoor activities:

  • Apply EPA-approved insect repellant (on top of your sunscreen, never under)
  • Cover strollers with mosquito netting
  • Empty any standing water in your yard, such as birdbaths and dog bowls
  • Limit the amount of time kids spend outside during the day when mosquitoes are most active
  • Repair holes in window and door screens
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants

If you’re traveling, you can also check for dengue risk in the area. But it’s always best to take precautions at home as well.

Protect Your Family from Mosquito-Borne Illness

From dengue fever and West Nile virus to Zika, mosquito-borne diseases can be scary. But AdventHealth specialists are always available to answer your questions and care for your whole health. Visit your primary care provider to learn more.

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