Dengue virus disease

Dengue virus disease

Dengue virus is a viral disease that is spread by mosquitoes. It is a problem in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, South America and some parts of northern Queensland. Estimates suggest that around 100 million cases occur each year.

Dengue virus ranges in severity from a mild flu-like illness through to a severe disease. There is no specific treatment and no vaccine. The best way to protect against dengue virus and other mosquito-borne diseases is to avoid mosquito bites. Seek medical attention immediately if you think you may have contracted dengue virus.

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Early diagnosis and management of symptoms is critical to reduce the risk of complications and avoid further spread of the virus.

Symptoms of dengue virus

The typical signs and symptoms of dengue virus may include:

  • high temperature
  • severe headache
  • pain behind the eyes
  • joint and muscle aches
  • appetite loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • generally feeling unwell (malaise)
  • skin rash

In most cases, symptoms resolve within one to two weeks.

Where dengue virus commonly occurs

Dengue virus is common throughout tropical and subtropical areas of:

  • Africa
  • the Caribbean
  • Central America
  • Central Pacific
  • China
  • India
  • the Middle East
  • South America
  • Southeast Asia
  • the South Pacific.

Symptoms of severe dengue virus

Although rare in Australia, certain people can develop severe dengue virus infection. Babies, young children, and people who have had dengue more than once are at increased risk of this complication.

Warning signs of more severe dengue virus include the typical signs and symptoms in additional to some or all of the following:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • restlessness and fatigue
  • persistent vomiting (which may include blood)
  • shortness of breath
  • nose bleeds and bleeding gums.

Most people who experience these symptoms recover fully. A small number of people who experience these symptoms will go on to have severe dengue which can include:

  • severe bleeding
  • extremely low blood pressure caused by blood loss (shock)
  • coma
  • death.

Cause of dengue virus

Dengue virus is caused by infection with one of four closely related viruses known as DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3 and DEN-4. Infection with one type gives you lifelong immunity to that particular dengue virus. However, the infection does not offer immunity to the other three types, so it is possible to contract dengue virus again. A person who has had dengue virus once is at increased risk of experiencing more severe dengue virus symptoms if they get infected again.

How dengue virus is spread

Dengue virus is not transmitted (spread) from person to person. Only infected mosquitoes transmit dengue virus. It is thought that the mosquito contracts the virus when it bites an infected person. The mosquito is then infective for the rest of its life and can spread the virus every time it bites someone.

Treatment for dengue virus

There is no specific treatment for dengue virus. Medical care aims to manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications while the person recovers. Most cases of uncomplicated dengue virus resolve fully within one to two weeks.

During this time, your doctor may advise:

  • bed rest
  • plenty of fluids
  • medication to reduce fever, such as paracetamol (do not take aspirin because of its blood-thinning properties).

Hospital admission is usually required if the person develops warning signs of more severe dengue. Treatment for these complications may include intravenous fluids and replacement of lost electrolytes.