I just got over dengue fever in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and wanted to share some things I learned. Before now I had only heard of it and really had no idea what I even had for the first 4 days.
Thankfully I did not have a severe case of it so did not have to be hospitalized and the pain was not too horrible compared to what I have read it can be like. Don’t get me wrong-it was not fun, but I am very grateful that it was not worse.
Dengue, as most people know, (and about the ONLY thing I knew about it until now), comes from mosquitoes. The only way to prevent it is to try and avoid the little buggers as much as possible. Not all mosquitoes carry it of course but it’s kind of hard to know which ones do and which ones don’t.
Mosquito repellant, sleeping nets, screens- all of those things help. It is also recommended that buckets or anything that hold water not be left to sit out as this is where mama skeeters like to lay their eggs.
My symptoms were flu-like the first couple days. I felt achy all over and had low energy. Then my eyes started to hurt, to the point of not being able to move them at all without it being painful. I had a headache and started to get fever and chills at night.
I felt better in the morning so I just stayed at home and took it easy and drank lots of fluids. I just thought I had the flu and maybe a bit of eye strain.
That night I had fever and chills again and did not get much sleep. The lymph nodes in my neck and the back of my head were swollen and tender as well. In the morning I started throwing up and had some stomach pain and diarrhea. The stomach pain subsided fairly quickly (thankfully) but I couldn’t even stand up without feeling immediately sick. I was too weak to want to do much standing up, but while I was in bed I didn’t feel too badly really.
I had fevers on and off during the day and at night and had to take pain killers every four or five hours for the body aches. My joints, back and neck were sore and I was starting to feel a bit sorry for myself at this point!
I still didn’t think too much of it. My husband had had similar symptoms the week prior and the doctor had just told him it was a flu and basically to just sleep it off. (Thankfully he recovered fine. Although he didn’t have all of the exact symptoms I did, it’s pretty probable that he also got bitten by a dengue carrier).
The next day I woke up still feeling icky, but I now had a rash on my neck and chest. My hands and feet were red and the palms of my hands and soles of my feet were super itchy. This was different than any flu I’d had so I punched my symptoms into google and then hightailed it to the doctor (a different one than the one my husband went to). He took one look at me and scolded me for waiting so long and then confirmed with a blood test that it was dengue. My white blood cells count was really low as a result as well so I had to be extra careful to not pick up any other infections or viruses now that my immune system was weak.
I found out that getting a blood test is really important not only to know for sure if you have it and rule out other stuff but also because dengue can affect your platelet counts. This can be serious as it can cause uncontrolled internal bleeding so it is really important to keep an eye on it.
It is also necessary to keep well hydrated as dengue is notorious for dehydration. Many people have to be hospitalized and put on an IV drip to replace the fluids so drinking tons is crucial. My doctor gave me the option but I preferred to avoid the IV and just be very careful to get enough liquids.
If you think you or someone else might have dengue here are the SYMPTOMS to watch for:
Symptoms usually begin 4 – 6 days after infection and last for up to 10 days and may include:
– Sudden, high fever
– Severe headaches
– Pain behind the eyes
– Severe joint and muscle pain
– Skin rash, which appears three to four days after the onset of fever
– Mild bleeding (nose bleeds, bleeding gums, or easy bruising)
If you have any of the WARNING SIGNS below, get to a hospital asap as they could be indications of dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome, which can be life threatening.
-Severe abdominal pain or persistent vomiting
-Red spots or patches on the skin
-Bleeding from nose or gums
-Black, tarry stools
-Drowsiness or irritability
-Pale, cold, or clammy skin
Most of the time, dengue will be mild to moderate and not the scary kind, but it is always a good idea to get checked out right away. Both my husband and I were lucky that it didn’t become serious, but because we (and his doctor apparently) didn’t know the signs we just thought we were dealing with a bad flu.
If you have already had dengue, it’s important to note that the virus causing dengue fever comes in four strains, and immunity to one seems to make infection by a second strain more dangerous.
Most travellers are not at a huge risk, especially if they are staying in hotels and using air conditioning etc. I live in a jungle area and have been in areas with dengue many times over the last decade or so and this is the first time I have come across it.