Dengue Fever is Not Confined to Africa: There is More to This Disease than Meets the Eye

Dengue fever is spreading at alarming rates, and humanitarian and health organizations from around the world are struggling to help keep it at bay.

The World Health Organization estimates that two fifths of the world population, 2.5 billion people, are at risk from dengue fever. The little known disease is currently epidemic in over 100 countries with 50 to 100 million cases estimated per year. The aedes aegypti mosquito, responsible for its spread and originally found in Africa, populates the tropics globally today.

White markings on legs and a lyre shaped marking on the center underbelly distinguishes the insect that causes dengue fever from other mosquitoes.

How does One Contract Dengue Fever?

Dengue fever, aka breakbone fever, is caused by one of four viruses spread by an aedes mosquito bite. The majority of cases occur in urban tropical and subtropical areas but cases are being reported more often in the United States. Hawaii, Texas, and states bordering the Gulf of Mexico have reported cases recently. Area maps showing infected areas can be found on the Center for Disease Control website.

Although extremely uncomfortable the initial symptoms of Dengue fever will pass within 14 days. High fever, headache, rash and body wide muscle and joint pain begin to be experienced within four to seven days of being bitten. Nausea and vomiting may or may not be present. There is no treatment for dengue fever beyond re-hydrating and rest. Blood tests to confirm its presence and liver function evaluations are sometimes ordered.

Getting Infected with Dengue Fever

Since there are four strains, a person can be infected multiple times. Due to the damage done to the liver and blood vessels, subsequent instances can result in life threatening conditions.

The more severe form of dengue fever is Dengue hemorrhagic fever. The symptoms are the same as those of the more mild form at first, but become worse after the first few days. Damage to lymph and blood vessels as well as a decrease in platelets is common in dengue hemorrhagic fever and hospitalization is needed to prevent Dengue shock syndrome.

The sudden drop in blood pressure is the life threatening quality of Dengue shock syndrome. Blood vessel leakage and heavy bleeding may be accompanied by piercing abdominal pain, repeated vomiting and disorientation. These symptoms appear after the fever has receded between the third and seventh day. If proper diagnosis and treatment is not received within 12 hours, death may occur.

Prevention primarily centers on avoiding mosquito bites. Wearing an insect repellent that contains at least a 10% concentration of DEET is best. Sunrise, sunset and early evenings are the prime feeding times for the aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads dengue fever.

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