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What is dengue fever?

Dengue fever is a disease caused by a family of viruses that are transmitted by mosquitoes. It is an acute illness of sudden onset that usually follows a benign course with symptoms such as headache, fever, exhaustion, severe muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), and rash. The presence of fever, itchy rash, and headache (the "dengue triad") is characteristic of dengue. Other signs of dengue fever include bleeding gums, severe pain behind the eyes, and red palms and soles.

Picture of Aedes albopictus mosquito
Picture of Aedes albopictus mosquito

Dengue (pronounced DENG-gay) can affect anyone but tends to be more severe in people with compromised immune systems. Because it is caused by one of five serotypes the dengue virus, it is possible to get dengue fever multiple times. However, an attack of dengue produces immunity for a lifetime to that particular viral serotype to which the patient was exposed.

Dengue goes by other names, including "breakbone fever" or "dandy fever." Victims of dengue often have contortions due to the intense joint, muscle, and bone pain, hence the name breakbone fever. Slaves in the West Indies who contracted dengue were said to have dandy fever because of their postures and gait.

Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a more severe form of the viral illness. Symptoms include headache, fever, rash, and evidence of hemorrhage in the body. Petechiae (small red spots or purple splotches or blisters under the skin), bleeding in the nose or gums, black stools, or easy bruising are all possible signs of hemorrhage. This form of dengue fever can be life-threatening and can progress to the most severe form of the illness, dengue shock syndrome.

Return to Dengue Fever

See what others are saying

Comment from: yvonne, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: October 21

I came back from India on 1st September. I developed aching muscles on 10th September. Prior to that I had sweats but put it down to menopause! I rapidly deteriorated over the next few days to the point of only lying still, not eating and not moving because everything hurt. I was taking paracetamol but liver results showed 8000 on lymphocyte count and although bilirubin was not bad all three other liver function measures were over 450 when the normal range is between 7 and 50. I had to stop taking paracetamol due to liver inflammation. Symptoms and incubation period suggested chikungunya but eventual test results showed dengue. All the videos say it lasts around a week but I was literally prostrate for over a week, couldn't eat without being sick and now 6 weeks later I am slowly getting enough energy back to stay up all day and to walk about 1 km without being exhausted. I am a very fit Hobie sailor and hiker but this knocked me for 6. I can feel I am getting better daily now but wrote this because I have been surprised at how ill I was when it is suggested by the video on here that most people recover in a week. I have been told to take things easy for 2 months. I think it must vary depending on how badly your liver is affected.

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Comment from: Srinivas M, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: February 16

I am 46 year old, and live in Pune, India. On 30th October 2015 by the time I reached home from office my 11 year old son had returned from school and was in bed with high fever (102 deg F). Around 6 pm same day I too started experiencing high fever. My wife took both of us to our family doctor, and he suggested some paracetamol tablets and asked us to go for blood investigation. When we woke up the next morning, there was no change in body temperature (still at 101 to 102 deg F), unfortunately my wife (39 year old) too joined us with high fever. That evening we got admitted in a hospital nearby. Hospital folks have done several tests for all 3 of us, and found that there were dengue antibodies in my son's blood sample, but my wife's and my samples were negative, but with low white blood cell count and low platelet count. Then the doctor confirmed that its dengue for three of us (he said that dengue antibodies can be seen in blood only for a day or two after contracting and probably I and my wife passed that stage), and suggested that there is no medicine and asked us to use paracetamol to control the body temperature and take more fluid diet. He discharged us the next day, but importantly he asked us to do platelet count every day until an increase is seen. Luckily, for my son and wife we have seen increase in platelet count which came to normal (150,000 per cu. ml) in the next two days. But I had to go through some level of depression as my platelet count was going down day by day, and it was about 40,000 by that weekend and I was a bit scared. I called our doctor and he was suggesting to admit in an ICU, as platelet count was around 40K and it was too risky. I decided to wait for two days, did not get admitted in hospital and did not even do my daily platelet check). Those two days tried to keep myself busy, not thinking a lot about this disease and other effects. I tried to eat normal and tried doing some easy (less stressful) work. I did my platelet check the next day and found it to be normal. It took about 3 months to get back to normal energy levels, but I started experiencing two things. First one is abnormal hair fall, and second one in my nails (all 20 nails) I see a kind of cut/disjoint that is growing along with the nails. I feel that this has started at the nail origin point (inside the finger) when my body experienced the dengue shock. Hopefully my nails will be all new in a couple of weeks, not sure when I will get back my hair. A couple of months ago the skin on my feet and palms has peeled off on its own as layers and I have a fresh and neat skin.

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Comment from: Anne, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: February 16

I felt generally unwell with mild fever and total loss of appetite and back pain two days after I was stung by a mosquito in Cuba. Doctors said it was dengue and gave me painkillers and orders to drink lots of water. The symptoms of fever and pain largely subsided but not the fatigue and depression. Then two weeks later came another bout of very high fever and pain particularly in the back of the eye and shivers. I wonder if dengue fever can have relapses like this. Very strange. Now the fever has suddenly subsided after two days but despite drinking lots of fluid, there is very little urine. I presume I have entered the so called critical stage of having plasma leakage.

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