What is dengue fever and who is at risk?

Dengue feverCC: Mikadago at Pixabay

Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Each country is thousands of miles away and their people are all battling against dengue fever pandemics. Many of their hospitals are at breaking point and their poorest inhabitants are unable to access crucial treatments and vaccines.

Although it’s easy to ignore diseases that don’t affect your own shores, it isn’t always wise. Whether you’re due to travel abroad this summer or not, the time has come to learn more about dengue fever.

First, what is dengue fever?

As a viral disease that’s most likely to occur in the tropics, dengue fever is a mosquito-borne condition. According to the CDC, around 40% of the world’s population live in an area where dengue is a risk.

In most cases, those who catch it suffer from flu-like symptoms. The symptoms can include:

  • A fever over 104F
  • Severe headache
  • Neck pain
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • A red rash

Most people who develop dengue fever will recover after a week without any ongoing consequences. A small number may take longer to recover, or they may continue to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

The biggest risks of the viral illness are posed to those who are very old, very young, pregnant, or immunocompromised. Such individuals are at risk of a condition called severe dengue. Severe dengue is a leading cause of death and illness in Latin America, but access to proper medical care lowers the risk of death to below 1%.

Where are the biggest outbreaks happening?

Unfortunately, many of the countries where dengue pandemics are rampant also lack proper access to medical care. Take Bangladesh, for example. Although it has an impressive life expectancy of 71 to 74, the mal-distribution of medical facilities means that diseases such as dengue have a severe impact. Similarly, although the Philipines and Malaysia are known for having some enticing tourist spots, poverty is rife in many areas.

Dengue is no stranger to the United States either. In 2015, a record 181 cases were reported in Hawaii. The CDC also has a list of states where cases are most common. Unsurprisingly, Florida and California are top of the list.

As dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes, you’re at risk in any area where mosquito-borne diseases are particularly prevalent. In the United States, that means you need to watch out for areas where there are large bodies of still or stagnant water.

Can you avoid dengue fever?

There is such a thing as a dengue vaccine, but it isn’t widely available. As with many aspects of international medicine, the vaccine is inaccessible to many of those who need it most.

Dengvaxia is currently being used in 20 countries as part of a phase-3 clinical trial focusing on people aged 9 to 45. It was first used in Mexico in 2015, with an impressive success rate. Although the age range doesn’t provide protection to those who are most vulnerable, vaccinating a significant proportion of a country’s population does make dengue less available to mosquitoes. As a result, it can still provide protection.

Do DC’s residents need to worry?

Overall, DC residents who aren’t traveling to an area with a pandemic may not need to worry. If you are, consider using products such as DEET and avoid spending a lot of time outside in the evening, which is when mosquitoes are most active.

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About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.