Should You Be Worried About Dengue Fever On Your Gap Year?

mosquito malaria

Dengue Fever is widespread throughout most tropical and sub tropical regions, with outbreaks occurring relatively frequently. But is dengue something you should worry about on your gap year? What is it exactly and how do you protect yourself from it? This article has all those answers and more.

Dengue fever is a nasty viral infection spread by mosquitos in a similar way to malaria and is an increasing public health concern. It is a global threat with around half the worlds population at risk according to recent reports by the World Health Organisation.

Despite this, dengue is a disease that is often completely under reported, ignored or misunderstood by so many travellers who set off on their round the world adventures.

So should you worry about dengue when you travel?

After contracting a nasty case of it myself in India, and in my professional capacity as a qualified nurse, I would say worry may be too strong a word, but it is definitely something you should be aware of and take the right precautions against. If you are prepared properly and take reasonable precautions you have no need to worry too much.

It is about being aware of any risk and preparing for that risk to minimise it as much as possible, not being worried.

Dengue Fever

Dengue is not malaria. It seems obvious but there is actually a lot of confusion on this issue. Even though it is often spoken of in the same context it is a seperate and distinct disease that is only related to malaria, zika, japanese encephalitis and other mosquito transmitted diseases.

Dengue fever is a viral infection transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or more rarely the Aedes albopictus mosquito. These mosquitoes – unlike malaria carrying breeds that bite in the evening or at night – bite during the daylight hours and any of them in dengue risk areas have a chance of carrying the disease.

It is becoming increasingly problematic throughout the tropical and sub tropical world from South America to Asia, especially in urban and semi urban areas, and has become a major international public health concern. Serious intermittent outbreaks occur frequently right across South and Central America, Africa and Asia.

Dengue map

Currently there is no vaccine or cure for any of the four distinct strains of dengue fever and there is no treatment beyond symptom management, but it is not fatal and for most travellers will usually resolve itself within 2 – 7 days.

There is a vaccine in development and latest trials are promising, but it is not proven enough yet to declare that there is a vaccine.

Once you have caught one strain of dengue (known as a serotype), evidence suggests you will become immune to that strain after recovery. However, this immunity does not apply to the other serotypes, and further infections from one or more serotypes of dengue increase your risk of getting severe dengue.

Severe dengue, also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) however, is a stronger and more dangerous strain of dengue characterised by severe shock and sometimes bleeding,  and can sometimes – but not always – be fatal if not recognised and medically managed by physicians and nurses quickly enough.

This strain of dengue is still very rare in travellers however, and prompt treatment can bring the death rate down from an average of 20% to 1%. It is something to be aware of so you can take precautions if necessary, but not something to be paranoid about.

What are the symptoms of dengue

Symptoms usually develop between 3 – 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, but can take up to 14 days. Symptoms are flu like in nature and can include:

  • Severe headache, especially behind the eyes.
  • Severe aching in bones and joints.
  • Severe muscle pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Skin rash.
  • Lethargy/tiredness.

If the infection develops into severe dengue, then further symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Abnormal bleeding, nosebleeds, bleeding gums and blood in stools or urine.
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • Persistent vomiting.
  • Rapid breathing.

Not all of these symptoms will be present in every case or to the same degree. Symptoms usually pass in two days to a week on average, but can in relatively rare cases take up to two weeks. It is not uncommon to feel tired or drained for a little while afterwards either.

HOW TO AVOID DENGUE

Remember, there is no vaccine or cure for dengue at the moment (despite the media getting ahead of themselves), so if you get it all you can do is try to relieve your symptoms. Vaccines are being developed at the moment but they won’t be widely available for some time yet. 

The only way to prevent getting dengue, is to protect yourself from the mosquitoes and avoid getting bitten in the first place.

That means using plenty of DEET spray of 40 – 50% strength and reapplying it regularly onto any exposed skin. If you are using sun protection, then put that on first and then use the DEET spray.

Clothing is also important to consider. Light, breathable clothing that covers up more skin such as long trousers and a T Shirt are best. You can also get mosquito repellant clothing which are impregnated with permethrin, the same chemical that is used on mosquito nets. It isn’t necessary to use these, but they don’t do any harm either, especially if you are heading to areas where mosquitoes are much more active.

Remember, dengue mosquitoes bite during the day, especially in the morning and before sundown, which is when they are most active. They like dark, damp areas and can often be found in dark rooms or in dark crevices.

Before you travel, you should always check for recent outbreaks in areas you want to travel to and plan accordingly, and get yourself to the nearest medical professional if you develop any of the above symptoms on your trip. It is always better to be safe than sorry, because believe me, Dengue is not something you want to suffer through!

 

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

 

Related Articldes

Do You Really Need Anti Malarial Medication On Your Gap Year?

Malaria And Dengue Fever.

Mosquito Avoidance.

My Battle With Dengue Fever In India.

The information provided here is for general travel health advice and information only. It is provided by a qualified nurse but is not a replacement for a personal consultation with a travel nurse specialist, your GP or a doctor specialising in travel medicine who can tailor advice to your individual medical history and needs.

Travel Clinic

Have you read all the information but still need a little more specific advice? Is there a travel health issue that you are worried about and need a little reassurance on? Need some information on malaria, or which vaccinations you will need? Is there a travel health issue you would like to ask about in complete confidence?

Well I am here to help.

Apart from being an experienced backpacker with over 10 years travel experience, I am also a qualified nurse with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine and practical experience volunteering as an expedition medic.

The Bemused Backpacker Travel Clinic is an indispensable online resource for you to gain a one on one consultation with a medical professional giving you personal reassurance, expert information and qualified advice for any and all of your travel health related questions. To head into the Travel Clinic, click here.

My Battle With Dengue Fever In India.

Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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Posted in Travel Health
8 comments on “Should You Be Worried About Dengue Fever On Your Gap Year?
  1. twoscotsabroad says:

    Mozzies love me. It doesn’t matter how much DEET I coat myself in (and that stuff is potent, melts plastic) they still get a good feed.

    I’m going to commit to no fragrances (including soaps) and now have patches to try on my clothes for the South / Central America part of our career break – wish me luck!

    • Good luck! 🙂 No fragrances is an excellent idea (but normal unfragranced soap is okay), you may also want to look into mosquito repellent clothing. There are some well known brands out there who do excellent permethrin coated shirts, t shirts, pants, etc. They aren’t a magic bullet, but may add that little extra percentage of protection for you. It all adds up!

  2. globetotting says:

    My husband also had dengue in India and he was in a very sorry state. But what helped him (he claims) was drinking lots of raw papaya juice. It’s what the locals swear by as well. Always worth a shot (literally)!

    • I’ve heard that about Papaya juice too, but to be honest I haven’t seen any clinical evidence to say it works. Still, as long as I’m also using my DEET, nets and other methods it certainly can’t do any harm! Plus it tastes good! ;D Thanks for the comment.

  3. Having suffered through dengue once, I never want to experience it again – ever! Worst pain of my life. In affected areas I now sleep with the light on, they tend to gather around the bulb instead of me then!

  4. Marianne says:

    Well that was an interesting read. Luckily I don’t back pack as am a mother of two young children but it’s so good to see the information online where people can find it and act accordingly

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