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Dengue fever (or dengue hemorrhagic fever) is a mosquito-borne viral disease primarily found in tropical and subtropical areas in the world.
Dengue remains as one of the most prevalent mosquito-borne viruses around the world and is spreading at an alarming rate. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 50 million dengue fever infections occur annually, and that number is only expected to go up within the coming years. Additionally, epidemiologists have seen an increased spread of the disease to new areas that were once not at risk (areas such as Thailand, Maldives, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka.)
Travelers play an essential role in the global spread of dengue infections, as travelers carrying a strain of the disease (they may not necessarily be “infected”) can bring it into areas with mosquitoes capable of transmitting the infection. A traveler carries the strain, gets bit by a mosquito who then becomes a carrier of that strain, bites someone else, and infections them with dengue.
Once a mosquito becomes infected with the dengue virus, they become a carrier and transmitter of that disease for the rest of its life.
The virus has an incubation period of about 4 to 10 days before a person ever shows signs or symptoms of infection. Some people never experience any symptoms at all- which is one of the reasons it spreads so quickly.
Mild dengue fever results in muscle and joint pain, high fever, irritating rash, nausea and vomiting (kind of like having the stomach flu). A severe form, however, can cause severe bleeding, sudden drop in blood pressure, and extreme cases, death.
Individuals who are most at risk of suffering from dengue fever are children and people who have asthma, anemia, or diabetes. Also, previous infection with a dengue fever virus increases the risk of having severe symptoms if you’re ever infected again.
There is a vaccine out on the market called Dengvaxia that is approved for the prevention of dengue fever in individuals ages 9 to 45. It is generally given to people that live or frequently travel to high-risk areas. However, the World Health Organization warns us that the vaccine is not a useful tool for preventing the disease or spread of the disease altogether. The most prominent, most effective method is controlling the mosquito population and preventing mosquito bites. I have an entire article dedicated to avoiding mosquito bites, which you can read here.
Diagnosing dengue fever can sometimes be difficult, as signs and symptoms can mirror that of a nasty stomach flu. If you have any of the above signs or symptoms, it’s essential to seek medical attention right away. Your doctor will ask you about your medical and recent travel history. Having recently traveled to a high-risk area is a major red flag, you may have contracted the disease.
Unfortunately, there is no specific medication to treat dengue, only treatment of the symptoms. In addition to seeking medical attention, you should:
As frequent travelers, we are at a much higher risk of contracting and being carriers of Dengue. As relatively healthy adults, we may not be as high a risk of getting sick. However, we have the potential to pass it to someone who is.
Also, there are four types of dengue viruses. If you recover from one of the four viruses that infected you, your risk of developing severe dengue fever increases if you’re infected by the other virus types a second, third, or fourth time.
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