Dengue (pronounced: DEN-gee) fever is an infectious disease. It can cause high
fevers, headaches, rashes, and pain throughout the body. Although dengue fever can
be very painful, it's not usually fatal. Most people who get it start feeling better
after several days and recover fully in a couple of weeks.
Dengue fever is common in tropical and subtropical climates. It's a big problem
in some countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Dengue fever is rare in the
United States, seen only in people who become infected in another country and then
travel or immigrate to the U.S.
How Do People Get Dengue Fever?
When a mosquito bites a person who has dengue fever, the mosquito becomes infected
with the virus that causes the disease. It can then spread the virus to other people
by biting them.
Dengue fever is not contagious, so it can't spread directly from person to person.
Since different viruses can cause dengue fever, someone can get the disease more than
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Dengue Fever?
Dengue fever used to be called "breakbone fever," which might give you an idea
of the severe bone and muscle pain it sometimes can cause. The fever isn't actually
breaking any bones, but it can sometimes feel like it is.
Symptoms of dengue fever usually appear 4 to 14 days after someone has been infected.
Some people infected with the virus won't have any symptoms. Others will have symptoms
for 2 to 7 days before getting better.
A person with dengue fever may notice:
pain behind the eyes and in the joints, muscles, and/or bones
bleeding from the nose or gums
Some people can get a more serious form of the infection called dengue
hemorrhagic fever. They'll have the regular symptoms of dengue fever for
2 to 7 days. After the fever goes down, they may notice these additional symptoms:
nausea and vomiting
severe abdominal pain
If dengue hemorrhagic fever is not treated right away, a person can have heavy
bleeding and a drop in blood pressure, and could even die. People with dengue
hemorrhagic fever need to be treated in a medical facility immediately.
When Should I Call a Doctor?
If you think you might have dengue fever, call a doctor right away. You also
should call a doctor if you develop symptoms of the infection after going to a region
that has dengue fever.
A doctor (or nurse practitioner) will examine you. He or she will ask you questions
about how you're feeling, your medical history, and recent travels. Your doctor might
want you to give a blood sample to test for the disease.
If you've been diagnosed with dengue, call your doctor or get to a hospital
emergency room right away if your symptoms get worse or if new symptoms appear, especially
in the day or two after the fever goes down.
How Is Dengue Fever Treated?
For mild cases, doctors usually recommend drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration,
getting lots of rest, and taking acetaminophen to relieve the fever and pain. People
with dengue shouldn't take medicines with aspirin or ibuprofen, which can make bleeding
Most cases of dengue fever will go away within a couple of weeks and won't cause
any long-term problems. But dengue hemorrhagic fever requires treatment in a hospital
with intravenous (IV) fluids and close monitoring. That's why it's really important
to call a doctor or go to the ER if symptoms are severe or get worse in the first
day or two after the fever goes away. (That's when dengue hemorrhagic fever is most
likely to develop.)
How Can I Prevent Dengue Fever?
You can help keep yourself free of dengue fever by avoiding mosquito bites. If
you live in or will be visiting an area where there's dengue fever:
Use screens on doors and windows. Repair broken or damaged screens quickly. Keep
unscreened doors and windows shut.
Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, shoes, and socks when you go outside.
Use mosquito netting over your bed at night.
Use an insect repellent as directed. Choose one with DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Limit the amount of time you spend outside during the day, especially in the hours
around dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
Don't give mosquitoes places to breed. They lay their eggs in water. So get rid
of standing water in things like wading pools and gutters. Change the water in birdbaths,
dog bowls, and flower vases every few days.
There is no vaccine against dengue fever yet. Because the infection is common in
tropical and subtropical areas, take precautions when visiting those regions.