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Dengue Fever: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors and More

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As summer approaches, the threat of dengue fever looms once again. This mosquito-borne illness is a serious concern in many parts of the world, causing flu-like symptoms and even death in severe cases. 

But fear not, by understanding its causes, recognizing its symptoms, seeking proper treatment, and taking preventative measures, we can all do our part to protect ourselves and our communities from this deadly disease. 

Dengue is an acute viral infection that continues to plague many countries across the world, including India. Almost over 40% of the world population is living in areas where there is a high risk of dengue. It is still considered one of the leading causes of illness in many countries.

While mild dengue can cause flu-like symptoms, severe dengue can present with potentially fatal complications. Dengue is caused by the bite of the female Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the same species responsible for spreading other viruses like Zika, Chikungunya, etc. It is a mosquito-borne disease caused by four related viruses (called serotypes) namely Dengue virus 1, 2, 3, and 4. Once you are infected with one of these viruses, your body tends to develop immunity to that particular virus, however, you can still catch the other three viruses and get infected at a later stage in life. Because of this very reason, a person can be reinfected with Dengue in his/her lifetime. Although outbreaks in India were mainly due to serotypes 2 and 3 (DENV-2 and DENV-3), dengue virus serotype 1 (DENV-1) was the predominant serotype reported in the 2010 Delhi outbreak.

Dengue Fever Symptoms

Dengue is a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes. It can cause severe flu-like symptoms, including:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Rashes on the body
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Body ache
  • Severe headache
  • High fever
  • Dengue can also lead to more serious complications such as hemorrhagic fever and death. 

Causes of Dengue

The dengue virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. They are found in tropical and subtropical areas. The virus can cause a range of symptoms, from mild to severe. Dengue fever is the most common form of the disease. It is characterised by a high fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and a rash. Dengue haemorrhagic fever is a more severe form of the disease. It can lead to bleeding from the nose or gums, as well as organ failure. Lastly, Dengue shock syndrome is the most severe form of the disease, and it can be fatal. 

Tests for Dengue

Doctors use simple blood tests for diagnosing dengue fever. These tests can check for the viral antibodies or the presence of a specific antigen. The most definitive test for Dengue includes a rapid point of care test, known as Dengue NS1 antigen test which can help in identifying the fever early and with more promptness. It increases the likelihood of providing a confirmed diagnosis which enables the doctor to provide patients with appropriate and timely advice and quick follow-ups as well. For patients presenting more than 1 week after fever onset, IgM detection is most useful, although NS1 has been reported positive up to 12 days after fever onset.
Dengue fever usually results in a decreased platelet count in most people. Therefore, the platelet count should be monitored carefully and regularly. A complete blood count (CBC) test gives a complete blood picture along with the platelet count. Make sure to get tested on time.

Typically, if you have dengue, you will be positive for dengue-specific NS1 antigen, a decrease in platelet count, and a decrease in total white blood cells (WBC) count.

Treatment of Dengue

There is no specific treatment for dengue fever. The focus is on relieving symptoms and supporting the body as it fights the infection. This includes actions like:

  • Taking rest and consuming plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Using pain relief medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen for headaches and muscle pain
  • Using anti-motion sickness medications such as meclizine and promethazine for nausea and vomiting
  • Consuming a fever reducer such as acetaminophen or diphenhydramine for fever
  • Utilising mosquito repellent to prevent further bites

Prevention is the best method of avoiding dengue fever, but these medications and measures can be used to effectively treat and recover from the illness.

Prevention of Dengue

Here are a few measures you can undertake to prevent the onset of this terrible illness:

Vaccination

In many parts of the world, a dengue vaccine has been developed. It is given in three doses over a year. However, you are eligible for this vaccine only if you have had the disease at least once, or have tested positive. 

Use Mosquito Repellent

When outdoors, use mosquito repellent on exposed skin. Most mosquito repellents contain one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanoate. 

DEET is the most common and most effective active ingredient. Higher percentages of DEET provide longer protection time against mosquito bites, but won’t last any longer than 10 hours. Look for products with 20% to 30% DEET for adults and less than 10% DEET for children. Picaridin is just as effective as DEET but can be used safely on kids aged two months and older. 

The oil of lemon eucalyptus is also as effective as DEET but should not be used on kids under three years old.

If you’re using a spray repellent, apply it to your clothing first and then rub it in so you don’t miss a spot. 

Reduce Mosquito Habitats

Mosquitoes can lay their eggs in any stagnant water, no matter how small. Once the eggs hatch, the mosquitoes can start reproducing in as little as a week. To help prevent mosquito-borne diseases:

  • Reduce mosquito habitats by emptying standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires and anything else that can hold water.
  • Change the water in bird baths at least once a week.
  • Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out.
  • Keep swimming pools clean and chlorinated.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

When going outdoors, it is important to wear clothing that covers as much of the body as possible. This includes long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks.

If possible, choose light-coloured clothing since mosquitoes are attracted to darker colours. Wear closed-toe shoes instead of sandals or flip-flops.

If weather permits, consider spraying clothing with an insecticide such as permethrin. You can also find clothing that has been treated with permethrin.

Diagnosis of Dengue

Dengue is typically diagnosed based on the symptoms a person is experiencing. Doctors may also order a blood test to look for antibodies that are specific to the dengue virus, or they may order a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis. An important metric in these blood tests is the platelet count. If it goes beneath a certain number, it can be a cause for concern. In some cases, a doctor may also order an imaging test to look for signs of internal bleeding.

Risk Factors of Dengue

There are two specific risk factors associated with dengue. They are:

Living in Tropical Areas: The most important risk factor for dengue is living in or travelling to an endemic area. Dengue is found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. If you live in or are visiting one of these areas, you're at risk of being infected with the virus.

Previously Infected with Dengue: If you have been infected with dengue in the past, you are at risk for developing more severe symptoms if you are infected again. This is because your body has developed antibodies to the virus, which can lead to a more intense immune response. 

Conclusion

In closing, dengue is a potentially life-threatening disease. It affects millions of people around the world. It is important to be aware of the causes, symptoms and treatments so that you can recognize it in its early stages and seek prompt medical attention if necessary. 

Additionally, taking preventive measures such as eliminating potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes should help reduce the chances of contracting this virus. By following these tips, you can keep your family safe from dengue fever and other mosquito-borne illnesses.

If you are displaying symptoms of dengue and want to make a clear diagnosis, then contact Metropolis Healthcare for a blood test. 

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