The other night we were sitting with a friend enjoying a few Pacificos when he asked if he could turn the fan on to keep the mosquitoes away. As one who always get bitten by these bloodsucking irritants, I was more than happy for the fan to keep me bite-free. As he clicked the fan on, our friend casually mentioned that with the rainy season comes dengue fever, which is not too dangerous,”unless you get Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF)…”
Excuse me? The what?
Before we left on this trip we went to the travel clinic to get the necessary shots as well as the medications we might need. As we will be traveling through high-risk malaria areas we stocked up on anti-malarials and brought along a good supply of bug spray. I figured malaria, not dengue fever, would be our biggest health risk. Truth be told, I have never been too concerned with dengue. I know that it can make you quite ill, I know there are no drugs to treat it but what I didn’t realize was that you can potentially die from it.
Dengue fever is transmitted through female Aedes mosquitoes. They feed on an infected person and then, after an 8 to 10 day incubation period, they are able to pass on this illness for the rest of their lives. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a much more serious version of dengue. It occurs as a result of complications and, with liver enlargement, circulatory failure and convulsions as part of its repertoire, it is potentially fatal.
Dengue fever is on the rise in Mexico, Central America and South America according to the World Health Organisation. Since we are planning to spend a significant amount of time in Latin America I did some research and found out that in Mexico alone dengue hemorrhagic fever accounts for one out of every four cases of dengue fever compared to seven years ago when it was one of out fifty. This indicates that DHF is rapidly becoming a serious travel health issue. As if travelers don’t have enough to worry about with malaria and other infectious diseases, here is one that you just have to suffer through if you are unlucky enough to become infected.
So what do you have to look forward to if you contract this mosquito-borne illness?
Dengue fever is characterized by:
- a flu-like feeling
- joint ache
- nausea / vomiting
- swollen lymph nodes
- decreased appetite
Dengue hemorrhagic fever include the above symptoms as well as:
- a sudden rise in temperature
- extreme sweating
- a shock-like state
- bleeding may start to occur under the skin or in little pinpricks
As I mentioned there is no treatment for either dengue fever or the more severe DHF. Dengue fever should subside after the fever breaks. Tylenol as well as lots of liquids (to prevent dehydration) are recommended to ease discomfort. Should symptoms worsen, the patient needs to receive medical attention immediately as this illness can be fatal. DHF is best treated by medical professionals who have experience with this condition if possible.
Prevention really is the key . If the mosquitoes don’t bite you, you will remain dengue-free!
- Wear light-colored clothing to cover up bare skin especially at dawn and dusk when the “skeeters” are more likely to be out looking for a meal
- Use repellent with 10% to 30% DEET (some people say this is worse for you…I say pick your poison. I’d rather take my chances with DEET than end up with a potentially life-threatening sickness)
- Pay attention to the climate as rainy season is mosquito breeding season
- Bring a mosquito net to protect yourself when sleeping
- Mosquito coils! These are the best if you find yourself in a room infested with mosquitoes. (There are health reports claiming these coils are dangerous to your health so protect yourself by ensuring good ventilation when you use them.)
- Some say taking Vitamin B will make you less attractive to these bloodsuckers but there is no scientific proof to back this up
Currently, the WHO is working towards finding a vaccine but at the present time none are available though it seems two potential vaccines have progressed to a stage where they may soon be tested.
The moral of this story is that dengue fever is on the rise in Mexico and in the rest of Latin America. It does pose a serious risk for travelers and, though, many health organizations are working towards solving the problem, it would be a wise idea to pack the bug-repellent (kid’s repellents tend be less harsh) and a good quality mosquito net before you set off on a Latin American adventure.
“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.
UPDATE: Reader Mollyn suggests that Tylenol may not be as safe as simple Ibuprofen. Please check with your doctor before self-medicating, especially if you think you have Dengue Fever!