When traveling to Africa, there are many important vaccines to obtain before you leave. However, there is a viral infection that as yet has no vaccine and no cure: dengue fever.
Dengue is also known as breakbone fever because the pain is so excruciating it feels like the bones in your body are breaking. It is a tropical disease caused by the dengue virus and is spread through mosquitoes, like malaria, but dengue is specifically from daytime mosquitos that feed in the early morning and right before dusk. The primary carrier of dengue is the Aedes aegypti mosquito which lives in urban areas and feeds mostly off humans. They have black and white legs, so avoid these at all costs. Prevention is the only way to avoid dengue, so when possible wear long pants and long sleeves, use a bed net, and douse yourself in mosquito repellant.
Once bitten, the incubation period is from 3-14 days. The first symptoms are aches, fatigue, and a high fever. If you start to feel these, immediately go to a hospital, doctor or clinic where you can get a blood test as early detection is the best way to prevent the infection from becoming serious. If you test positive for dengue, there is no cure and no treatment – you simply have to do your best to stay comfortable for 1-2 weeks while you recover. Everyone has slightly different reactions and symptoms to the disease, but you can expect the following:
- High temperature, around 104 F (40 C), that can come and go at will.
- Intense pain in your bones and joints.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- A headache behind the eyes.
- Flushed skin or the appearance of an itchy, red, measles-like rash in some spots or all over your body.
- People reportedly sleep 20 hours of the day, and the simplest tasks like eating and showering leave you exhausted.
- Limited appetite.
- Profusely sweating in your sleep.
- Dry, flaky, peeling skin on your hands (occurs in recovery mode).
In the majority of cases, dengue is not deadly, but there is a small proportion (less than 5%) of cases where it can develop into a shock syndrome or hemorrhagic fever, which if not treated properly can result in death. If you have already been infected with dengue, the chances of hemorrhagic fever occurring are higher. If diagnosed with dengue, you must return to the hospital every few days to ensure that your blood platelets are at a safe level so hemorrhaging doesn’t occur. If the platelets do get too low, you will be hospitalized and receive a saline and paracetamol IV to help with dehydration.
WHO reports that nearly one half of the world’s population is at risk of dengue, so whenever you travel to tropical and sub-tropical climates, be vigilant and always wear mosquito repellant!