Dengue Fever

An infection, also known as breakbone fever, caused by Flavivirus and spread by mosquitoes

  • Travel to tropical and subtropical countries is a risk factor
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Dengue fever is endemic in many tropical and subtropical areas of the world, and there are an estimated 100 million new cases every year. It can be caused by any one of four subtypes of Flavivirus, which are carried and transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. This mosquito is found mainly in suburban and rural areas and usually bites during the daytime. Since the disease causes severe pain in the muscles and joints, it is also known as “breakbone fever”.

The symptoms of dengue fever appear 4–8 days after a bite from an infected mosquito. They include a high temperature, headache, severe backache, muscle pain and weakness, and joint pain. Small red spots may also develop on the skin during the first few days of the illness. The fever often subsides for 3–4 days but then recurs before subsiding again. In severe cases, abnormal bleeding may occur from areas such as the gums and nose and from injection sites.

What might be done?

Dengue fever can usually be diagnosed from the symptoms. There is no specific treatment, but it is important to rest and drink plenty of cool fluids. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, may help to relieve symptoms and reduce fever. Severely affected people may need observation and treatment in hospital, but life-threatening complications are uncommon. Recovery usually takes several weeks.

An attack of dengue fever gives lifelong immunity, but only to the specific subtype of Flavivirus involved, and there is no vaccine against the virus. Travellers to areas where it is common should use mosquito repellents and wear clothing that completely covers the arms and legs (see Travel health).

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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