Dengue fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) are acute febrile diseases which occur in the tropics, can be life-threatening, and are caused by four closely related virus serotypes of the genus Flavivirus, family Flaviviridae. It is also known as breakbone fever. It occurs widely in the tropics, including northern Argentina, northern Australia, the entirety of Bangladesh, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Micronesia, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Samoa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad, Venezuela and Vietnam, and increasingly in southern China. Unlike malaria, dengue is just as prevalent in the urban districts of its range as in rural areas. Each serotype is sufficiently different that there is no cross-protection and epidemics caused by multiple serotypes (hyperendemicity) can occur. Dengue is transmitted to humans by the Aedes aegypti or more rarely the Aedes albopictus mosquito, which feed during the day.
The WHO says some 2.5 billion people, two fifths of the world’s population, are now at risk from dengue and estimates that there may be 50 million cases of dengue infection worldwide every year. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries.
Dengue may also be transmitted via infected blood products (blood transfusions, plasma, and platelets), and in countries such as Singapore, where dengue is endemic, the risk was estimated to be between 1.6 and 6 per 10,000 blood transfusions.
The disease manifests as a sudden onset of severe headache, muscle and joint pains (myalgias and arthralgias—severe pain that gives it the nickname break-bone fever or bonecrusher disease), fever, and rash. The dengue rash is characteristically bright red petechiae and usually appears first on the lower limbs and the chest. In some patients, it spreads to cover most of the body. There may also be gastritis with some combination of associated abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Some cases develop much milder symptoms which can be misdiagnosed as influenza or other viral infection when no rash is present. Thus travelers from tropical areas may pass on dengue inadvertently, having not been properly diagnosed at the height of their illness. Patients with dengue can pass on the infection only through mosquitoes or blood products and only while they are still febrile. The classic dengue fever lasts about two to seven days, with a smaller peak of fever at the trailing end of the disease (the so-called “biphasic pattern”). Clinically, the platelet count will drop until the patient’s temperature is normal. Cases of DHF also show higher fever, variable hemorrhagic phenomena, thrombocytopenia, and hemoconcentration. A small proportion of cases lead to dengue shock syndrome (DSS) which has a high mortality rate.
The diagnosis of dengue is usually made clinically. The classic picture is high fever with no localising source of infection, a petechial rash with thrombocytopenia and relative leukopenia – low platelet and white blood cell count. Care has to be taken as diagnosis of DHF can mask end stage liver disease and vice versa. Others include:
- Fever, bladder problem, constant headaches, eye pain, severe dizziness and loss of appetite.
- Hemorrhagic tendency (positive tourniquet test, spontaneous bruising, bleeding from mucosa, gingiva, injection sites, etc.; vomiting blood, or bloody diarrhea)
- Thrombocytopenia (<100,000 platelets per mm³ or estimated as less than 3 platelets per high power field)
- Evidence of plasma leakage (hematocrit more than 20% higher than expected, or drop in hematocrit of 20% or more from baseline following IV fluid, pleural effusion, ascites, hypoproteinemia)
- Encephalitic occurrences.
Dengue shock syndrome is defined as dengue hemorrhagic fever plus: Weak rapid pulse, Narrow pulse pressure (less than 20 mm Hg), Cold, clammy skin and restlessness.
Dependable, immediate diagnosis of dengue can be performed in rural areas by the use of Rapid Diagnostic Test kits, which also differentiate between primary and secondary dengue infections. Serology and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) studies are available to confirm the diagnosis of dengue if clinically indicated. Dengue can be a life threatening fever.
The mainstay of treatment is timely supportive therapy to tackle shock due to hemoconcentration and bleeding. Close monitoring of vital signs in critical period (between day 2 to day 7 of fever) is critical. Increased oral fluid intake is recommended to prevent dehydration. Supplementation with intravenous fluids may be necessary to prevent dehydration and significant concentration of the blood if the patient is unable to maintain oral intake. A platelet transfusion is indicated in rare cases if the platelet level drops significantly (below 20,000) or if there is significant bleeding. The presence of melena may indicate internal gastrointestinal bleeding requiring platelet and/or red blood cell transfusion.
Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided as these drugs may worsen the bleeding tendency associated with some of these infections. Patients may receive paracetamol preparations to deal with these symptoms if dengue is suspected. –iu-
Tips of The week
Primary Prevention of Dengue
- Control the mosquito population around your environment.
- In urban areas, Aedes mosquitos breed on water collections in artificial containers such as plastic cups, used tires, broken bottles, flower pots, etc. Periodic draining or removal of containers is the most effective way of reducing the breeding grounds for mosquitos.
- Larvicide treatment is another effective way to control the vector larvae, but the larvicide chosen should be long-lasting and preferably have World Health Organization clearance for use in drinking water. There are some very effective insect growth regulators (IGRs) available which are both safe and long-lasting (e.g., pyriproxyfen).
- For reducing the adult mosquito load, fogging with insecticide is somewhat effective.
- Prevention of mosquito bites is another way of preventing disease. This can be achieved by using insect repellent, mosquito traps or mosquito nets.