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Dengue fever symptoms and treatment PDF Print E-mail

Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, is rarely fatal, but its flu-like symptoms make a bout of the illness extremely unpleasant, so much so that the virus has been researched for development as a biological weapon.

The illness was once known as “breakbone fever”, because of the severe headaches and extreme joint and muscle pain it wrought in its victims.

 

In most cases, Dengue fever is characterized by the very quick onset of a high fever and nausea often accompanied by vomiting. Internal bleeding also can occur in those in whom the disease is allowed to progress. Other symptoms can include pain behind the eyes and a rash that covers much of the body.

Dengue fever is not currently endemic to the United States, but it is found in most tropical nations, and American travelers and military personnel infected abroad can return to their hometowns and spread the illness. There are also cases being reported in areas such as the Florida Keys, where it is believed that infected mosquitoes have been migrating northwards due to global warming.

There is no vaccine for this illness, so people should avoid Dengue by avoiding mosquito bites, employing either a chemical repellant such as DEET or a mosquito trap that significantly reduces the mosquito population. Travelers to areas with endemic Dengue fever should also take precautions against mosquito-borne illness by staying in accommodations that employ mosquito traps.

Joint Pain

Joint, muscle, back and neck pain are familiar to anyone who has had the flu. Likewise with Dengue fever, but these symptoms tend to be particularly intense in patients of this viral illness, once known as “breakbone fever.” Severe headache and pain behind the eyes are characteristic of the mosquito-borne disease. Patients have reported pain so severe that sleep becomes all but impossible, which exacerbates the exhaustion that typically accompanies any viral disease.

The joint and muscle pains typical of Dengue fever can also cause contortions in its victims. During the time of slavery in the Western Hemisphere, the condition was known as “dandy fever” because of the noticeable differences exhibited in the posture and gait of slaves who contracted the illness in the West Indies and other tropical regions.

High Fever

Dengue fever patients will typically experience a very rapid rise in body temperature, frequently as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. With such high fever comes the feeling of “burning eyes” caused by dehydration, as well as profuse perspiration. This fever usually lasts two to four days then quickly returns to normal. The patient will often feel “well” for a full day. The fever, however, characteristically returns with a vengeance, and the patient is back to a high fever for several more days.

Rash

The initial symptoms of Dengue fever can include a pink rash or flushing of the skin that covers the face, but then quickly goes away. After this early period of illness, a red rash that covers nearly the entire body, including all extremities but not the face (thankfully), is a common symptom of this mosquito-borne viral disease. The rash often covers the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, and causes them to swell.

Nausea

Gastritis, or an inflammation of the lining of the stomach, is another common effect of Dengue fever. It should come as no surprise that this brings its own set of problems, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF)

The internal bleeding that can come from a persistent bout of Dengue fever is the most dangerous symptom of the illness. It is most frequently found in patients 10 years old or younger. Whereas the typical case of the disease is fatal in less than 1 percent of patients, the hemorrhagic phase of the illness may carry a mortality rate as high as 30 percent.

Bleeding can be evident in a number of places, usually first appearing as melena, or blackness of the stool, a frequent indicator of internal bleeding. Nosebleeds, bleeding gums, easy bruising and blood spots on the skin are often symptoms of DHF, along with sore throat and cough. The patient may cough up blood.

The greatest risk and most frequent cause of death related to Dengue fever is shock. Patients diagnosed with Dengue hemorrhagic fever often will have a bluish tint to their skin, especially around the mouth. These patients must be monitored for several days, as shock, or low blood pressure caused by blood loss, can be fatal and can occur and recur precipitously.

The illness often lasts as much as two weeks, and patients typically will feel weak and exhausted for weeks after recovery.

Treatment

There is no treatment or vaccine for Dengue fever, so it is best to treat the symptoms. It is important, however, to use the right treatment, especially regarding pain relief. Aspirin must be avoided, along with other anti-inflammatory drugs, because of their tendency to exacerbate blood loss and, therefore, shock.

Acetaminophen is best for relieving the headaches and joint pain that are characteristic of “breakbone fever.” Acetaminophen is the pain-relieving ingredient in Tylenol and can be found generically over the counter.

It is important that Dengue fever patients replenish fluids as often as possible, as the high fever of the illness naturally results in dehydration. Patients who are vomiting are even more at risk of dehydration. Patients who cannot maintain or “keep down” oral intake fluids may require intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration. DHF patients often require blood transfusions to alleviate shock. Oxygen is administered to those who appear bluish.

Avoiding mosquito bites is the best way to protect yourself and others from this painful and sometimes fatal virus.


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