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The wet season is here again. As everyone knows, with typhoons and rain comes water, and with water are mosquitos. It is that period of the year again that we must be extra careful and on high alert about dengue.
According to Orkin, a pest control company, “some consider [mosquitos] to be the most dangerous creature in the world due to the disease infections they transmit to people and wildlife.”. Among these diseases are Malaria, Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue.
Currently, Dengue is one of the most common mosquito-borne diseases in the tropics and occurring in more than 100 countries around the world.
What is dengue?
Dengue fever is a vector-borne disease as the virus is carried and transmitted by the Aedes species (Ae. aegypti or Ae. albopictus) mosquito, through blood-feeding. This type of mosquito is identified by the black and white stripes on their bodies.
When an infected female Aedes mosquito bites a person, the dengue virus is injected in the bloodstream via the infected mosquito’s saliva. Subsequently, uninfected mosquitoes feeding on an infected host becomes infected too, thus continuing the cycle of spreading the virus.
Dengue hotspots in the tropics of Southeast Asia, the western Pacific islands, Latin America and Africa are where these mosquitoes thrive and multiply. Though mosquitoes are also active during summer, they peak during the rainy season. Frequent rain creates still or standing water accumulation, which become perfect breeding grounds for these insects.
At-risk areas are anywhere with collected water available. Dr. Ma. Gia Grace B. Sison, MD DPCOM and Head of Makati Med Wellness Center says “if you have a spot in the house, or in the office where water is accumulating, you may want to check that”. So whether it’s buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots, vases, or a teaspoon - as long as it holds water, an infected Aedes mosquito can lay its eggs to hatch more mosquitos.
What are the symptoms of dengue infection?
In our interview with Dr. Gia, she lists the symptoms we must watch out for in case we suspect someone of being infected with dengue. This includes:
- high fever
- joint pains
- aches and pains
These symptoms manifest between four to twelve days after the mosquito bite. Though it can easily be confused with the common flu or even the Covid-19 virus, Dr. Gia advises that a CBC (Complete Blood Count) Test can confirm if a person is infected with Dengue.
Unfortunately, in some cases, similar to the Covid-19 virus, a person with dengue can be asymptomatic or may only experience mild fever. However, to avoid the risk of escalation to severe dengue, it is of high importance to consult a doctor immediately.
Although symptoms can be mild at first, dengue fever can worsen and become life-threatening if not treated properly. Severe dengue, also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome, results in fatal complications such as plasma leaking, fluid accumulation, respiratory distress, severe bleeding, or organ impairment. The World Health Organization fact sheets and details on Dengue and severe Dengue flags the warning signs you should watch out for. These are:
- severe abdominal pain
- persistent vomiting
- rapid breathing
- bleeding gums
- blood in vomit.
Anyone showing these signs must immediately be rushed to an emergency room or local clinic to have professional care and close monitoring for the next 24-48 hours. If proper medical attention is not given, the patient may suffer from the complications or worse, the risk of death.
The four types of dengue
There are only four known distinct types of dengue. Simply named DENV type I, II, III, and IV, each type varies in their interaction with the antigens in a person’s bloodstream hence also indicating the difference in severity. A person can be infected with the virus a total of four times in his life, with subsequent infections being more severe than the previous ones. Contracting one type of Dengue makes a person immune to that particular type, but not to the other types he has not encountered yet.
Prevention and cure
Anyone residing where the virus is endemic can be infected with the dengue virus; the virus doesn’t choose a particular age or gender. Generally, mosquitoes are attracted to exhaled carbon dioxide, heat, and scent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website suggests the following to prevent infection:
- Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants.
- Treat clothes with repellents.
- Make sure windows and doors screens are closed to avoid allowing mosquitoes into enclosed spaces.
- Avoid areas with standing water. Especially at times of high mosquito activity like dawn and dusk.
- Regularly clean any open hollow spaces that may store water.
When infected, doctors highly recommend for patients to seek professional treatment to ensure proper management and avoid risk of severe dengue. Patients suffering from dengue admitted to the hospital are treated with intravenous fluids and blood transfusion when necessary.
A person infected with mild dengue may heal without hospitalization. Self-management requires rest, hydration and painkillers, but remember to refrain from use of any ibuprofen, aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents as it can only aggravate gastritis and bleeding of the patient. If symptoms worsen, consult professional medical care immediately.
Dr. Gia stressed not to treat Dengue lightly because as Dengue infection when not addressed immediately can progress and be fatal.
Status and controls
WHO highlights that the incidence of dengue has grown exponentially over the decades and currently infects more than a hundred million people each year. As alarming as it is, the world is still highly focused on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, this does not mean dengue should be but a secondary concern. WHO reminds everyone to recognize the global burden of dengue and implement practices to address and prevent it.