Dengue remains one of those diseases that seem to rear its ugly head every monsoon and affects people all over the country. Even cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai has more than its share of dengue cases.
So what is dengue?
It is a tropical disease, usually transmitted by mosquitoes and the common symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains and skin rash. There is no vaccine for dengue and the only way to reduce infections is to improve hygiene levels so as to prevent mosquito-bites and prevent mosquitoes from breeding. It’s particularly difficult to create a vaccine because it’s caused by different viruses and there are no animal models available for testing. The disease kills over five thousand Indians every year and is a seasonal threat, particularly during the monsoon seasons.
So what are the symptoms of dengue?
Characterized by severe flu-like symptoms, dengue affects infants, children and adults alike and could be fatal. The clinical manifestations of dengue vary with the age of the patient. A person suffering from high fever in the range of 40°C/ 104°F, accompanied by any two of the following symptoms could be suffering from dengue:
Symptoms usually last for 2-7 days. Dengue could progress to severe dengue, a potentially fatal complication, causing leaking of plasma, fluid accumulation, respiratory distress, severe bleeding and organ impairment.
The warning signs to look out for occur 3-7 days after the first symptoms along with a decrease in temperature are:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Persistent vomiting
- Rapid breathing
- Bleeding gums
- Blood in vomit
- Fatigue, restlessness
The next 24-48 hours of the critical stage can be lethal; proper medical care is needed to avoid complications and risk of death.
Once you see any of the above symptoms, do visit a doctor as soon as possible.The diagnosis of dengue fever is usually made when a patient exhibits the typical clinical symptoms of headache, fever, eye pain, severe muscle aches and petechial rash. Usually if a patient is from an area that has a huge population of mosquitoes, dengue can be suspected. A blood test to diagnose people with dengue fever, called the DENV (Detect IgM Capture ELISA) may also be used.
If untreated, the most serious complication is dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), in which blood vessels start to leak and cause bleeding from the nose, mouth, and gums. Untreated DHF can lead to dengue shock syndrome (DSS), which is lethal in 90% of cases unless promptly and correctly treated, in which case fatality rates can fall as low as 1%, depending on quality of treatment.
Recently there have been news stories on a dengue strain that affects the liver. This condition is also called dengue hepatitis. It leads to severe organ malfunction and in some cases even organ failure. In the case of dengue hepatitis, fever lasts longer, often for more than a week, and leaves the patient extremely exhausted. An indication of this condition, according to experts is the sudden rise in SGOT (Serum Glutamic Oxaloacetic Transaminase) and SGPT (Serum Glutamic Pyruvic Transaminase) levels, sometime almost 20 times higher than the normal level. Dengue hepatitis is characterized by high fever, lasting more than a week, extreme weakness. The blood tests show an increase in SGPT and SGOT levels, a drop in platelet count and WBCs.
Because dengue fever is a viral infection, there is no specific treatment for the condition. The patient should seek medical advice and drink plenty of fluids. Symptomatic relief can be sought using NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Paracetamol. But drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen should not be taken since they can increase the risk of bleeding. For severe dengue, medical care by experienced physicians can frequently save lives. It is important to maintain the fluid volume of the patient for recuperation of the patient.
Dengue is a communicable diseases spread by mosquitoes from one human to another. So, the only way it can really be prevented is by avoiding mosquito bites. One can make sure all egg-laying habitats of mosquitoes like open and stagnant water source are cleaned up. If there are any open water sources you cannot eliminate, cover them and apply appropriate insecticides. Use protection such as window screens, long-sleeved clothes, and insecticide treated materials, coils and vaporizers.