Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease that occurs in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Mild dengue fever causes high fever, rash, and muscle and joint pain. A severe form of dengue fever, also called dengue hemorrhagic fever, can cause severe bleeding, a sudden drop in blood pressure (shock) and death.
Millions of cases of dengue infection occur worldwide each year. Dengue fever is most common in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific islands, but the disease has been increasing rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Researchers are working on dengue fever vaccines, but the best prevention for now is to reduce mosquito habitat in areas where dengue fever is common.
Many people, especially children and teens, may experience no signs or symptoms during a mild case of dengue fever. When symptoms do occur, they usually begin four to 10 days after the person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever most commonly include:
Fever, up to 106 F (41 C)
Muscle, bone and joint pain
Pain behind your eyes
You might also experience:
Nausea and vomiting
Minor bleeding from your gums or nose
Most people recover within a week or so. In some cases, however, symptoms worsen and can become life-threatening. Blood vessels often become damaged and leaky, and the number of clot-forming cells in your bloodstream falls. This can cause:
Bleeding from the nose and mouth
Severe abdominal pain
Bleeding under the skin, which may look like bruising
Problems with your lungs, liver and heart
When to see a doctor
If you've recently visited a region in which dengue fever is known to occur and you suddenly develop a fever, see your doctor.
Dengue fever is caused by any one of four dengue viruses spread by mosquitoes that thrive in and near human lodgings. When a mosquito bites a person infected with a dengue virus, the virus enters the mosquito. When the infected mosquito then bites another person, the virus enters that person's bloodstream.
After you've recovered from dengue fever, you have immunity to the virus that infected you — but not to the other three dengue fever viruses. The risk of developing severe dengue fever, also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, actually increases if you're infected a second, third or fourth time.
Treatment & Drugs
No specific treatment for dengue fever exists. Your doctor may recommend that you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration from vomiting and high fever. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can alleviate pain and reduce fever. Avoid pain relievers that can increase bleeding complications — such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, others).
If you have severe dengue fever, you may need:
Supportive care in a hospital
Intravenous (IV) fluid and electrolyte replacement
Blood pressure monitoring
Transfusion to replace blood loss
Lifestyle & Home Remedies
A dengue fever vaccine is in development, but isn't generally available. If you're living or traveling in an area where dengue fever is known to be, the best way to avoid dengue fever is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes that carry the disease.
If you are living or traveling in tropical areas where dengue fever is common, these tips may help reduce your risk of mosquito bites:
Stay in air-conditioned or well-screened housing. It's particularly important to keep mosquitoes out at night.
Reschedule outdoor activities. Avoid being outdoors at dawn, dusk and early evening, when more mosquitoes are out.
Wear protective clothing. When you go into mosquito-infested areas, wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks and shoes.
Use mosquito repellent. Permethrin can be applied to your clothing, shoes, camping gear and bed netting. You can also buy clothing made with permethrin already in it. For your skin, use a repellent containing at least a 10 percent concentration of DEET.
Reduce mosquito habitat. The mosquitoes that carry the dengue virus typically live in and around houses, breeding in standing water that can collect in such things as used automobile tires. Reduce the breeding habitat to lower mosquito populations.