The dengue epidemic breaks out every year in some parts of the world and we have the climate crisis to blame for it. The Philippines and Malaysia have fallen victim to it this year around with the death toll rising by the hour.
Dengue is an infectious disease that spreads through the bite of a female Aedes aegypti mosquito. In total, the dengue virus has four different serotypes, which means that you can be infected by it up to four times in your life. While some forms of the disease are benign and resolve themselves, other forms such as the Dengue haemorrhagic fever and the Dengue shock syndrome can be potentially fatal.
How Does Dengue Fever Spread?
Believe it or not, it is actually just from a bite of a female Aedes mosquito that makes Dengue infectious and spiral out of control in a population. These mosquitos thrive in a damp, moist environment and feed in the early morning. That is why the incidence of dengue rises around the rainy reason.
The Aedes mosquito can live for up to two weeks to a month depending on the environmental conditions. These mosquitos prefer to stay near stagnant, clean water pools.
Although it is not always easy to tell, the Aedes mosquito actually looks pretty distinct. These mosquitos have a characteristic striped body that can be used to tell them apart. When an Aedes mosquito bites a person infected with dengue, it carries the virus and transfers it to the next person it bites. It typically takes about 4 to 14 days (known as the incubation period) after the bite before the symptoms of dengue start to appear.
Who came first – the mosquito or the dengue-infected individual? That’s a mystery!
How Does Dengue Fever Present?
The first few days of dengue fever come with non-specific symptoms such as a fever and headache associated with joint and muscle pain. This is known as the prodromal period and can last up to a week.
After this initial period, other symptoms and signs may start to appear. Fortunately, 75% of dengue infections have no complications and resolve by themselves. The other 25% of cases can cause nausea, severe headaches, abdominal pain and vomiting.
In rare circumstances, the dengue infection can progress to a shock state known as the dengue shock syndrome, characterized by low blood pressure, high rate and/or altered consciousness levels. It is usually the 3rd or 4th dengue virus serotypes that cause fatal outcomes.
Although dengue is an infectious disease, it cannot be spread directly from person to person. It is the Aedes mosquito that acts as a host and takes part in spreading the disease. That is why patients with dengue are kept in isolated mosquito nets to prevent the entry of the Aedes mosquito.
How Is Dengue Diagnosed?
Because of the varying symptoms of dengue, a clinical examination alone is insufficient to confirm the diagnosis. Typically, a set of blood tests will help in making the diagnosis, along with a history of a mosquito bite.
Lab tests that are usually performed include a full blood count and a liver function test. An overwhelming drop in the platelet count is a sign of dengue fever.
The gold-standard test of dengue infection is through detection of dengue virus, known as Dengue NS1, or detection of dengue antibody, which is Dengue IgM or IgG. The PCR test (slightly more expensive) can also be used to confirm the diagnosis accurately.
There are some diagnostic tools available in areas where dengue is epidemic, to ease the diagnosis of dengue infection. The tool, which is available in the form of a test kit, is known as a Dengue Combo Kit. You can get a quick diagnostic test done yourself at BioMark’s participating clinics in Malaysia.
Once a diagnosis of dengue has been established, your doctor will advise you to track your Full Blood Count values (typically Platelet, Total White Cells, and Haematocrit) for about 5 to 7 days, until the recovery period. You can easily track those values through the BioMark App.
How Can Dengue Be Prevented?
When it comes to dengue, prevention really is the best cure. You can stop the spread of infection in its tracks by applying insect repellents (especially in the day), wearing covered clothing such as full sleeves and pants, and sleeping under mosquito nets.
It is also important to stop the survival of the Aedes mosquito by making sure that there are no stagnant pools of water in or around your house. Special care should be taken to remove rainwater from tires and other places where water can get collected.
The dengue vaccine, although still in its infancy, is also available for early protection against the virus.
How Is Dengue Fever Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no specific antiviral treatment available for dengue fever. The treatment is mostly supportive through controlling the symptoms of the infection. Medicine such as acetaminophen are usually prescribed to curb the fever and the patient is advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
In severe cases of the infection when the platelet counts fall dangerously low, the patient might require blood transfusions and intensive fluid therapy at the hospital.
If you or a loved one has a suspicion of dengue infection, it is important to get checked by a doctor right away. This is especially true for people living in places where the infection is an epidemic. A series of lab tests at our participating clinics can quickly help identify and confirm the presence of the infection.