What is Dengue Fever?

There are a number of health concerns for travellers, with Malaria usually topping that list. However there are other insect-borne diseases and viral infections that travellers should be aware of, including Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever. While Dengue Fever is rarely fatal, it can easily ruin a week or more of your trip, and in some rare cases can progress to a more serious and potentially fatal form.

What is Dengue Fever?

Dengue Fever is a viral infection, also known as ‘breakbone fever’, which is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, mainly the Aedes Aegypti or Aedes Albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito) species. Both of these species of mosquito are known for biting during the day. Unlike Yellow Fever, there is currently no vaccine for Dengue Fever, so avoidance of mosquito bites is the key to preventing infection.

Symptoms of Dengue Fever

Once infected with Dengue Fever, symptoms can take 4-10 days to develop, and the onset of symptoms is often sudden. Symptoms of Dengue Fever can include:

  • High fever
  • Muscle & joint pain
  • Severe headache
  • Rash – usually appears 2-5 days after fever
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

Treatment for Dengue Fever

There is currently no specific treatment for Dengue Fever, and symptoms such as fever and headache are treated symptomatically while the infection runs its course.  Those infected with Dengue should start to feel better within a week or so, but it may be a little longer until you’re feeling 100% again.

Serious complications are rare, but you should seek emergency medical attention immediately if you develop severe Dengue Fever (also known as Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever). Symptoms of Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever often display as worsening of early symptoms, and can include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Swollen tummy
  • Breathing problems or fast breathing
  • Bleeding under the skin
  • Bleeding gums
  • Cold & clammy skin
  • Drowsiness or loss of consciousness

The World Health Organization is currently trialling vaccine candidates for Dengue Fever, as a safe and effective vaccine is urgently needed to prevent and control the disease. One Dengue vaccine has been licensed, Dengvaxia® (CYD-TDV), which was first licensed in Mexico back in December 2015. The CYD-TDV vaccine is not currently available in the UK.

Which Countries Have a Risk of Dengue Fever?

Dengue Fever is common in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, the Indian subcontinent, Australia, South and Central America. If you’re unsure whether or not your destination carries a risk of Dengue Fever, check out Fit for Travel for up to date travel health advice.

How to Prevent Dengue Fever

As previously mentioned, there is no vaccine or preventative medication available, so your only defence against Dengue Fever is to avoid mosquito bites. Here are our top tips for avoiding mosquito bites during your trip.

  • Mosquito Repellent – Use a DEET based repellent, containing 50% DEET. Make sure you apply this to exposed areas of skin and re-apply at the recommended intervals, or more often in the event of excessive perspiration and in high humidity.
  • Mosquito Net – Get additional protection from mosquitoes during the night by sleeping under a treated mosquito net, most nets on the market are treated with Permethrin or a similar insecticide. Make sure your net has no less than 156 holes per square inch, as this is the minimum specification recommended by the World Health Organization.
  • Clothing – Wear loose, light coloured clothing that covers your arms and legs. You can also spray clothing with a fabric treatment to help repel mosquitoes.
  • Water – The mosquitoes known for spreading Dengue Fever are often found around standing water and stagnant pools, where they like to lay their eggs, so try and avoid standing water.
  • Mosquito Plugs – Use a mosquito repellent plug-in to keep mosquitoes out of your room during the day and on a night.