Monday, March 1, 2010

Surviving Dengue Fever


With all the natural disasters going on lately, I admit I'm feeling a bit dark. I promise I'll get back to colorful, fun, tropical stuff on Wednesday but today, two days after the tsunami siren woke me up at 4am, I'm still preparing for the worst. So today's post is about the joys of dengue fever! No, it's not something we like to think about, but it's certainly something we should be ready for.

I've had dengue fever three times, my husband has had it four times and both my kids have had it twice. Nearly everyone I know on Tahiti has had it - not surprising since WHO estimates that there are 100 million cases of dengue worldwide each year. Usually we don't worry about catching the virus since it comes in epidemics, but when we do start hearing about cases, especially in the neighborhood, out comes the tropical strength bug spray. Aedes mosquitoes that carry dengue bite mostly during the day and the mosquitoes get infected by biting a human with the virus. The incubation period is about a week.

Dengue is not subtle. One second you feel great, then a bit cold; within a half hour you have severe chills, feel extremely weak and know you are seriously ill. The fever rises rapidly and your head and entire body start to ache (this is why it's also called "break-bone fever"). At this point I curl up into a ball somewhere dark and just suffer for two to three days. TV sounds awful, your eyes hurt too much to read or even remain open and eating sounds like too much effort. Hopefully there is some caring person around to bring you liquids. My husband once had a horrible strain of dengue that included vomiting and diarrhea. During this particular outbreak the sick children and elderly were airlifted off the atoll (we were living on Ahe Atoll at the time) but my husband had to get through it with just a bucket and me, his loving wife. Luckily I didn't get it that time but I seriously thought he might die.

I've talked to doctors who believe that dengue is more dangerous than malaria, and many articles I've read concur, but once you get used to having it around, it's hard to think of it that way. We know what to look out for: if you start bruising for no reason it may have gone hemorrhagic and you need to get to a hospital; hemorrhagic fever is a potentially lethal complication that spawns from regular dengue. But otherwise, dengue is just something you have to wait out. Drink lots of liquids and take Tylenol for the fever but NEVER aspirin, which thins the blood and can also make the disease go hemorrhagic. Then there's the aftermath - a bunch of my hair usually falls out and once I got severely depressed for a month or so due to chemical imbalances created by the high fever. Dengue is something that requires recovery and I've never seen anyone just bounce right back to normal.

On a lighter note, here's a video from the Cambodian band Dengue Fever who, besides being awsome, have the best band name ever:

15 comments:

  1. Wow, that sounds fun. Well, at least I know there is a price to pay for living in paradise? Sounds mean, but hey, look where I live. That just IS mean.

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  2. Sorry to hear you're not feeling too chipper, Celeste.
    (In a tragically misguided attempt to cheer you up, I will send lots of inane tweets your way. Don't thank me, there's no need and indeed no reason to. Although I can recommend channelling your resentment at me by planning to do the same thing when I'm a bit fed up. Anticipated revenge always lifts my spirits).
    Dengue sounds grim indeed. Like a far more vicious version of the Brit Winter Vomiting Bug that we've been plagued with over the last few months, and which sideswiped me in January. Same treatment - gritting your teeth and riding it out until you finally stop emptying yourself...
    So is there anything you can do to boost your immune system and/or develop a natural immunity to Dengue? Any local wisdom on the matter?

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  3. Ah Mike nothing to boost the system against dengue I'm afraid other than lots of bug spray. I have heard though that there are only a certain number of strains (4 or 5 but no one seems to agree) and you can only get each kind once. My husband and kids all got Dengue on a trip to Thailand and I didn't - I had it there years earlier though so I think I'm now immune to that one. But then again, the more times you've had it, apparently the more likely you are to go hemorrhagic . . . so it's just bad no matter what.
    As for the blahs, thanks for the support and you can always count on me to send the Tweeting moral boost back your way :-)

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  4. So if I'm on my way to Thailand, what is "dengue season?"

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  5. Hi Mike, I general the worst time is the monsoon when there's lots of standing water and therefore more mosquitoes. In Thailand the rainy season is different in different areas so you're going to need to check when the monsoon season is where you're going. That said, outbreaks can happen any time. Last time I had dengue here in Tahiti it was in the middle of the dry season and no one else had it! I have no idea where I got it - it was very random.

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  6. thank you for you to make me learn more,thank you∩0∩ ........................................

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  7. Hi, I'm in Laos with a 6 year old with Dengue, we planned to travel around Asia for a few years, but this has knocked us for six. We're seriously considering ditching the whole plan and heading to boringly-safe Europe. You've given me some reassurance here, so thanks, surviving multiple exposures is what I needed to hear about!

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  8. Hi Alyson,
    The good news also is that I think you can only get each strain of dengue once. The first time I had it was in Thailand and years later on a family trip there my husband and kids got it but I didn't, I think because I already had that strain. Horrible that your 6 year old got it but once they've recovered there's no reason not to continue on. Good luck!

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  9. Hi Celeste, thank you for informing us about this terrible virus. I contracted it on October 1st and was hospitalized on the island of Palawan. It has been 7 weeks now and I still get the hair loss, stinging in hands and feet (dryness too) but worse of all it the abdominal pain. I wondered if you could let me know how you and your family was feeling say 2 months after contracting dengue?

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  10. Hi Celeste, thank you for informing us about this terrible virus. I contracted it on October 1st and was hospitalized on the island of Palawan. It has been 7 weeks now and I still get the hair loss, stinging in hands and feet (dryness too) but worse of all it the abdominal pain. I wondered if you could let me know how you and your family was feeling say 2 months after contracting dengue?

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    1. Hi tokyoman. It really depends on the type of dengue and how your body reacts to it. I had it once when it took a full three months to be myself again and probably longer than that to fully recover. I have never been hospitalized though and never had lingering abdominal pain. Unfortunately the only thing to do is to take care of yourself, monitor your health with a doctor (which sounds very important in your case) and wait it out. I sincerely wish you the best! I know how awful it is.

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  11. Hi Celeste, like you said it is impossible to put a date on recovery as we are all different.
    You see last week I was able to go out and do two 40 minute brisk walks a day but now i can hardly get out of bed.
    During your 3 month recovery did you experience times when you had energy and times you just had to stay in bed all the time?
    Nick

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    1. It's been about 6 years since I last had dengue so honestly I can't remember! I'm not sure if you have access to a naturopath but that or other alternative medicine like acupuncture can be really helpful as far as rebuilding strength and increasing energy levels. I'm sorry I can't help you more@

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  12. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I'm hopeful you can help me as you clearly know a lot of people who have had dengue several times... yourselves included. I had DHF in 2012 and since then have been trying to understand whether or not I will get it again if I contract dengue a second time. Do you know of anyone who has had hemmoragic dengue more than once? And do you know of anyone who has had DHF and then just regular dengue again? I've been asked to move to Vietnam and I'm desperate to know the risks. Thank you so much. x

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    1. Hi Philippa,
      I know plenty of people who have had regular dengue several times -- apparently you can only get each strain once but there are several strains. I don't know anyone who has had hemmoragic dengue twice however. I wish I could help you more but honestly I don't know more than my experiences! No science here, just stuff that happened. Good luck on making your decision and I hope you find some answers!

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