All you need to know about dengue and its treatment

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
October 30, 2020

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease spread by the female Aedes mosquito and caused by the dengue virus, or rather, one of four closely-related viruses (DENV1-4). The Aedes species aegypti and albopictus spread the virus when they bite a person having the dengue virus, subsequently, get infected themselves and then, bite a healthy person. The symptoms of dengue show up within 3 to 14 days of a person getting infected. Dengue fever symptoms include high fever, rash, headaches, muscle pain, joint pain and in severe cases, bleeding and shock. With proper medical care, dengue fever resolves within days to weeks, though it can be life-threatening.

Dengue outbreaks are common to areas having tropical or subtropical climates and affect about over 1 lakh Indians every year. In India, the spread of dengue fever occurs year-round in the southern states and from April to November in Northern areas. If you find yourself having dengue fever symptoms you should visit the doctor and, if necessary, get a dengue test done to rule out the disease. Thankfully, dengue is not spread from person to person. This means that if you take measures like throwing out stagnant water you can significantly reduce the risk of infection.

To understand dengue fever, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment in greater depth, read on.

Symptoms of dengue fever

Dengue fever symptoms can be divided into 3 categories. Those pertaining to mild dengue fever, and those pertaining to the complications dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) and dengue shock syndrome (DSS).

Mild dengue fever

Dengue fever symptoms for a mild case start after 4 to 7 days of the patient getting infected and generally last for 2 to 7 days. The symptoms are:

    • High fever of 104-106°F

This is accompanied by symptoms like:

  • Rash
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle, joint pain
  • Bone pain
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Headache
  • Swollen glands

Some people, especially the young, do not experience dengue fever symptoms in case of mild dengue fever.

Dengue haemorrhagic feverWhen mild dengue fever worsens, blood vessels can get damaged and the number of platelets in the blood can drop. This deterioration can cause dengue haemorrhagic fever. DHF symptoms may start after 10 days of getting infected. Here, the symptoms of dengue include:

  • Severe, persistent pain in the abdomen
  • Continuous vomiting
  • Bleeding from the gums, mouth, or nose
  • Internal bleeding leading to blood in the urine, stools, or vomit
  • Skin bruising, caused by bleeding under the skin
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Excessive thirst
  • Clammy or pale, cold skin
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness, sleepiness, and irritability

In case of moderate DHF, the symptoms subside once the fever recedes.

Dengue shock syndrome

In case DHF prolongs and the patient’s condition deteriorates, the patient can go into a state of shock. Like DHF, DSS can be fatal. DHF and DSS can occur after 3 to 5 days of fever. Symptoms of DSS include those of DHF as well as:

  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • The sudden drop in blood pressure (shock)
  • Low pulse pressure (<20mmHg)
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Blood vessels leaking fluid
  • Restlessness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Organ failure
  • Reduced fever

It is important to note that during DHF and DSS fever often drops. This may lead you to think that recovery is at hand. However, this is the most dangerous period and demands proper and immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis of dengue fever

Since the symptoms of dengue fever resemble those of malaria, typhoid, leptospirosis, and chikungunya, accurate diagnosis of dengue can be tricky. Your doctor will probably start out by asking about your travel history to know if you have visited areas that are at a high risk of dengue transmission. Part of the diagnosis could also involve the doctor checking your medical history and vaccinations to rule out diseases like yellow fever.

To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will request that you undergo a blood test for dengue. The purpose of the blood test is either to detect the dengue virus or to detect antibodies produced in response to the dengue infection. The dengue test result may or may not be conclusive. For instance, in case of a molecular PCR test, a positive result is regarded as conclusive, but a negative one may simply mean that the level of virus is too low to detect. Yet, a blood test is the surest and only way to confirm dengue fever. Since the test requires no preparation, your physician may even consider doing a dengue test at home.

To rule out DHF and severe dengue fever, doctors will do the following tests:

  • Total white blood cell count (low WBC count)
  • Thrombocytopenia (low platelet level)
  • Haematocrit (ratio of volume of RBC to that of whole blood)

Doctors may even take a chest X-Ray and do coagulation studies.

Treatment of dengue fever

Dengue is caused by a virus and hence, there is no specific treatment for dengue fever. In the case of mild dengue, it is key to prevent dehydration, often caused by vomiting and high fever. Clean water is recommended and rehydration salts can also help replace lost minerals.

To ease pain and lessen the fever, your doctor may give painkillers such as paracetamol and Tylenol. It is important not to self-medicate with drugs like ibuprofen as they can put you at risk of internal bleeding.

In case of severe dengue, treatment may include:

  • Hospitalisation
  • Intravenous (IV) fluid and electrolyte replacement
  • Blood transfusion
  • Electrolyte therapy
  • Oxygen therapy

Dengue fever usually resolves within days to weeks.

Now that you know about the symptoms of dengue, its diagnosis and treatment take steps to prevent its transmission altogether. You can do so by wearing long-sleeved clothes, using a mosquito repellent, and throwing out stagnant water present in containers.

If you think you have dengue fever symptoms make no delay in contacting a doctor. An easy way to do so is to use the Bajaj Finserv Health app. It allows you to search for relevant doctors in your locality, book appointments at doctor clinics, make video consultations, store your personal health records and more!

With online healthcare a click away, ensuring that dengue fever does not become severe is now easier than ever. To get the Bajaj Finserv Health app, simply download it from Google Play or the Apple App Store.