What is dengue fever?Dengue fever is a disease caused by a family of viruses that are transmitted by mosquitoes. It is an acute illness of sudden onset that usually follows a benign course with symptoms such as headache, fever, exhaustion, severe muscle and joint pain, swollen glands (lymphadenopathy), and rash. The presence (the "dengue triad") of fever, rash, and headache (and other pains) is particularly characteristic of dengue. Other signs of dengue fever include bleeding gums, severe pain behind the eyes, and red palms and soles.
Dengue (pronounced DENG-gay) strikes people with low levels of immunity. Because it is caused by one of four serotypes of virus, it is possible to get dengue fever multiple times. However, an attack of dengue produces immunity for a lifetime to that particular serotype to which the patient was exposed.
Dengue goes by other names, including "breakbone" or "dandy fever." Victims of dengue often have contortions due to the intense joint and muscle pain, hence the name breakbone fever. Slaves in the West Indies who contracted dengue were said to have dandy fever because of their postures and gait.
Dengue is prevalent throughout the tropics and subtropics. Outbreaks have occurred recently in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba, and Central America. Cases have also been imported via tourists returning from areas with widespread dengue, including Tahiti, Singapore, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, the West Indies, India, and the Middle East (similar in distribution to the areas of the world that harbor malaria and yellow fever). Dengue is now the leading cause of acute febrile illness in U.S. travelers returning from the Caribbean, South America, and Asia.
Dengue fever is common, and statistics show it may be increasing in Southeast Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia have all reported an increase in cases. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 100 million cases of dengue fever with several hundred thousand cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever requiring hospitalization each year. Nearly 40% of the world's population lives in an area endemic with dengue.
What are dengue fever symptoms and signs?
What is the prognosis for typical dengue fever?Dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) is a specific syndrome that tends to affect children under 10 years of age. It causes abdominal pain, hemorrhage (bleeding), and circulatory collapse (shock). DHF is also called Philippine, Thai, or Southeast Asian hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.
DHF starts abruptly with high continuous fever and headache. There are respiratory and intestinal symptoms with sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Shock occurs two to six days after the start of symptoms with sudden collapse, cool, clammy extremities (the trunk is often warm), weak pulse, and blueness around the mouth (circumoral cyanosis).
In DHF, there is bleeding with easy bruising, blood spots in the skin (petechiae), spitting up blood (hematemesis), blood in the stool (melena), bleeding gums, and nosebleeds (epistaxis). Pneumonia is common, and inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) may be present.
Patients with DHF must be monitored closely for the first few days since shock may occur or recur precipitously (dengue shock syndrome). Cyanotic (bluish) patients are given oxygen. Vascular collapse (shock) requires immediate fluid replacement. Blood transfusions may be needed to control bleeding.
How can dengue fever be prevented?The transmission of the virus to mosquitoes must be interrupted to prevent the illness. To this end, patients are kept under mosquito netting until the second bout of fever is over and they are no longer contagious.
The prevention of dengue requires control or eradication of the mosquitoes carrying the virus that causes dengue. In nations plagued by dengue fever, people are urged to empty stagnant water from old tires, trash cans, and flower pots. Governmental initiatives to decrease mosquitoes also help to keep the disease in check but have been poorly effective.
To prevent mosquito bites, wear long pants and long sleeves. For personal protection, use mosquito repellant sprays that contain DEET when visiting places where dengue is endemic. Limiting exposure to mosquitoes by avoiding standing water and staying indoors two hours after sunrise and before sunset will help. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is a daytime biter with peak periods of biting around sunrise and sunset. It may bite at any time of the day and is often hidden inside homes or other dwellings, especially in urban areas.
There is currently no vaccine available for dengue fever. There is a vaccine undergoing clinical trials, but it is too early to tell if it will be safe or effective. Early results of clinical trials show that a vaccine may be available by 2012.