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What causes dengue and its common symptoms?

Overview

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral infection. It is common in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. It is caused by the bite of the female Aedes genus of mosquitoes. It occurs only when the mosquito bites an infected individual and then bites a non infected individual while carrying the virus.

About dengue fever

Dengue fever occurs in the tropical and subtropical countries of the western Pacific islands and the Southeast Asian region. It has also been spreading to the Caribbean as well as Latin American countries. Mild dengue fever may cause high fever and flu-like symptoms and severe form of dengue fever, also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, may cause severe bleeding, a sudden drop in blood pressure (shock) and even death. 

What are the symptoms of dengue infection?

The symptoms are commonly seen after 4-7 days of the mosquito bite and can last for 10 days. In children and teenagers, the signs and symptoms are not always seen, especially in case of a mild infection.

The common signs and symptoms include:

  • High fever with up to 104-degree Fahrenheit. It can occur suddenly.
  • Severe headache.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Rashes in various body parts.
  • Swelling in glands.
  • Body ache, bone, and joint pain.
  • Bleeding from the nose or gingiva. This is mostly mild.
  • Easy bruising on the skin. Sometimes, the fine vessels under the skin appear like bruising. It can occur without any trauma.
  • Fatigue
  • Pain behind the eyeballs.

In children and younger adults, the infection mostly remains mild, and the signs and symptoms are often confused with that of viral flus. It disappears on its own. It is also mild when the individual is infected for the first time in life.

Symptoms in older children and adults:

However, dengue fever causes severe complications in older children and adults. It is known as dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome (DSS). The following are the commonly seen symptoms of DSS:

  • High fever
  • Damaged blood vessels.
  • Leakage of blood from the blood vessels.
  • Blood in the vomit, urine, and stool.
  • Damage to the lymphatic system.
  • Drop in the blood platelet count.
  • Enlargement of the liver.
  • Severe pain in the abdomen.
  • Cold and pale looking skin (due to shock).
  • Bleeding from the nose and gums.
  • Failure of the circulatory system.
  • Irritable and restless behavior.
  • Difficulty in breathing, leading to rapid breathing.
  • The symptoms may progress to massive bleeding, shock, and death.
Dengue fever

When to see a doctor?

If you have any of the above symptoms, call your doctor and get tested for dengue. If you note any of the severe symptoms like severe abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or bleeding, call for emergency care. 

Also, keep track of these symptoms if you live in areas where dengue is prevalent or have recently traveled to any tropical or subtropical country. Call your doctor if you feel suspicious of dengue.

Dengue fever causes

The cause of dengue fever are dengue viruses. Dengue fever is caused by any one of the four types of dengue viruses that are transmitted to the patient through a mosquito bite. The female Aedes mosquitoes act as a vector to the viruses and carry them from the infected individual to a healthy individual.

If someone has had previous dengue infections, their chances of developing severe complications and DSS increases if they are infected for the second time . The more the number of infections in a lifetime, the more chances of severe complications. 

How is it Treated?

There is no specific antiviral treatment for the disease. There is only symptomatic and supportive treatment, but it is very important to receive it since your body is usually weak from the effects of dengue, and needs help to fully recover and prevent the emergence of complications. As dengue fever causes body pain, and it can make the fever worse, it is treated with acetaminophen-based painkillers. You should avoid taking aspirin as it may increase the bleeding, if any.

You should keep yourself hydrated and take adequate rest. You should feel better after your fever goes down. If this is not the case with you, visit the hospital.

If you have dengue hemorrhagic fever, you would need to be hospitalized and may receive transfusions of platelets or other blood products along with intravenous fluids as well as periodically monitored for blood tests and blood pressure . If your doctor suspects other rare complications, you may be taken up for specialized testing such as ultrasound, CT, MRI, etc. The hospitalization may last for a few days.

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How can we prevent it?

Only one dengue vaccine has yet been approved, known as Dengvaxia but it is not yet available in India because of lack of evidence of its benefits. It is given to people in the age group of 9-45 yrs in 3 doses over the course of 12 months.

There are no other vaccines for dengue fever currently. Researchers are working on it. Preventing the causes of dengue fever is the only prevention. Mosquito breeding and mosquito bites should be prevented, especially if there are known cases of dengue in your vicinity.  

These are some common tips to keep you from mosquito bites:

  • Wear full clothes. Cover your skin as much as you can, especially if you are going outdoors. Also, try to wear thicker fabrics like cotton, linen, or denim. This will reduce the risk of a mosquito bite.
  • Ensure that mosquito nets are used on windows . Dengue mosquitoes are most active in the early mornings or late evenings. However, they can bite you at night as well. So you can guard the windows of your house with mosquito nets.
  • Mosquito repellents. Permethrin repels mosquitoes. It is therefore applied to clothes, camping tents, etc. To apply on skin, use 10% DEET.
  • Reduce mosquito breeding. Aedes Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water in artifical containers like buckets , cocnut shells etc . To avoid breeding of mosquitoes, you should cover any container, regularly clean them and cover your drains.

Conclusion

Dengue fever is caused by a virus. Severe Dengue fever is life threatening and needs in-hospital care. If we want to stay protected, we should stay safe from mosquitoes. If you are an adult or an older individual, you should stay more careful about the complications.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What questions can I ask my doctor?

Ask your doctor about the most likely cause of your current symptoms, the test that you need to undergo, treatment options, recovery time, any long-term effects of the infection.

What questions will my doctor ask me?

Your doctor may ask you questions related to the signs and symptoms that you are having, the duration for which you have the symptoms if they are mild, moderate, or severe, etc.

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