First of all, I want to start by saying that this post is written from my personal experience of dengue fever, as well as facts and knowledge gleaned from the Internet, and does not constitute medical advice. If you should find yourself in a situation where you or one of your family has dengue fever, you should always consult a medical professional.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease which is widespread in tropical and sub-tropical regions, including the Philippines. It is spread by female mosquitoes of the species Aedes aegypti and, to a slightly lesser extent, Ae. albopictus (pictured above).
According to the World Health Organization, the incidence of dengue fever has “grown dramatically,” with some 390 million dengue infections estimated to occur every year. From what I’ve seen here on the ground in the Philippines, dengue is certainly very prevalent here in the province, and I know of at least three people who have died as a result of it within the last year.
Transmission of Dengue Fever
Interestingly, the Aedes aegypti mosquito is a daytime feeder, so it’s very unlikely that you’ll catch dengue overnight. Its peak feeding times (when it’s likely to bite you) are first thing in the morning and just before dusk. At these times, the Aedes aegypti mosquito often bites multiple people, so it’s not actually that rare for several family members to get dengue fever at the same time.
It’s worth noting that infected humans are the primary carriers and multipliers of the virus. In other words, if you have dengue fever and get bitten by one of the two species of mosquito mentioned above, there is a strong chance you will infect said mosquito. If it then bites one of your family members they are at risk of catching the disease too.
Therefore, if you have a confirmed case of dengue in your household you should take extra precautions (which we will talk about later) to ensure that other members of your family aren’t subsequently infected.
Dengue Fever Symptoms
Dengue Fever manifests itself in severe flu-like symptoms. If someone has been exposed to mosquitoes; has a temperature close to 40°C/104°F; and displays one or more of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, severe headache, muscle and joint pains, pain behind the eyes, swollen glands or rash, there’s a strong chance they have dengue fever.
After being bitten by an infected mosquito, the dengue virus has an incubation period of between four and 10 days before symptoms start to show. The infected person will then exhibit symptoms for two to seven days.
Dengue Fever seldom causes death, but there are complications associated with it. Fatigue, bleeding gums, severe abdominal pain, rapid breathing and persistent vomiting (sometimes with blood) are all warning signs that should not be ignored.
This is the bottom line: there is no specific treatment for dengue fever. So don’t expect that you can visit a doctor or hospital and be given a drug to cure you of it. The only course of action available is to relieve the symptoms. Taking paracetamol (not aspirin or ibuprofen), drinking plenty of fluids and resting are all recognized dengue fever management steps.
Late last year, the first ever dengue fever vaccine was approved for use in people 9-45 years old living in endemic areas. The Philippines Department of Health (DOH) launched a school-based immunization program in April 2016. However, this program has been marred in controversy following the death of an 11-year-old boy. The DOH strongly denies that the vaccine was responsible for the boy’s death, and has instead cited his underlying congenital heart disease as the root cause.
Here in the province, I haven’t heard of any dengue fever immunization programs, so can only assume that they haven’t filtered down this far yet. I have two daughters aged seven months and three years old, both of who I would probably have vaccinated if one was available.
The general consensus with most diseases is that prevention is better than cure, and that seems to definitely be the case with dengue fever.
Here are a few prevention tips:
- Remove any unnecessary clutter from your home and outside spaces that may become a breeding ground for mosquitoes
- Clear any areas where water may hang/get stuck
- Wear long trousers/pants and long-sleeved tops during peak mosquito biting times
- Apply mosquito repellent to exposed areas of skin
- Use mosquito coils (known as katol in Tagalog) inside your home
- Sleep under a mosquito net (known as a kulambo in Tagalog)
Every day, I go around our property looking for potential mosquito breeding grounds with the aim of destroying them. Cups that have been left out in the rain; buckets of water; even puddles that have been hanging around for a few days are all potential places for the Aedes aegypti mosquito to lay its eggs. In fact, Aedes larvae only need a teaspoon of water in which to hatch and survive.
My Experience of Dengue Fever
Can you believe that I got dengue fever three days before I was due to get married!?! I awoke that morning and felt as though I’d been hit by a train in my sleep. Now I’ve had fevers before, but this was on another level. My entire body felt as though it weighed a tonne, and I struggled to even lift an arm.
I was raging hot and my head was killing me. The next day my wife noticed a rash on my back and that’s when I decided to seek medical advice.
The problem where we live is that the hospital isn’t exactly state-of-the-art. Once they had confirmed via a blood test that I did indeed have dengue fever they wanted to admit me and hook me up to a drip. I refused and told them I would go home and self-medicate. That’s mainly because I knew that there was no cure for dengue and it was all about relieving symptoms – something I could do at home.
So that’s what I did. I went home and spent the next 36 hours drinking copious amounts of Gatorade and taking paracetamol to make me feel human again. Within two days the symptoms had subsided enough that I was able to get married to my beautiful wife Jaquilene.
I’m certainly not recommending that everyone refuses hospital treatment, but oftentimes we know in ourselves whether we can fight an infection. Hospitalization is recommended for young babies and elderly patients who inevitably need a drip to keep them hydrated.
As I stressed at the start of this post, seek medical advice if you suspect dengue.
Finally, you can get dengue fever more than once. Some people believe that once you’ve had it you’re okay. There is some truth in that because once you survive your first infection you gain immunity to that particular type, but the fact is there are four types in total. Moreover, getting infected a second time can lead to far more severe symptoms, so always take precautionary measures.