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Dengue Fever

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What is dengue fever?

Dengue (say "DEN-gay") fever is a disease caused by a virus that is carried by mosquitos. Mild cases cause a rash and flu-like symptoms. Some people, especially children, can get more serious forms of the illness, known as dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.

What causes dengue fever?

Dengue fever is spread through the bite of mosquitoes that carry the virus. The virus cannot spread from person to person through casual contact. People who have dengue fever should be protected from mosquito bites. If a mosquito bites an infected person, the mosquito becomes infected with the virus and can pass it to other people.

Outbreaks are common in many countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia. The disease also occurs in Africa, parts of the Middle East, the Western Pacific, Puerto Rico, and other tropical and subtropical areas.1 Travelers visiting these regions may become infected.

Dengue fever is rare in the United States. But there have been cases of dengue fever reported in Florida and areas of the southwestern U.S., especially along the border between Texas and Mexico.2, 3

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of dengue fever may be mild or severe. In mild cases, common symptoms include:

The fever usually lasts up to a week and may come and go.

After the initial fever, some people may have more serious symptoms that may be signs of dengue hemorrhagic fever. These can include:

  • Signs of bleeding, such as:
    • Red patches that may look like bruises or tiny red spots.
    • Bleeding from the nose, mouth, or gums.
    • Vomiting blood.
    • Stools that look like black tar.
  • Severe belly pain.
  • Signs of shock.

If you have symptoms of dengue fever, see your doctor or go to the hospital right away.

How is dengue fever diagnosed?

You doctor will ask about your symptoms and any recent travel. He or she may order a blood test to confirm whether you have dengue fever.

How is it treated?

There is no medicine for treating dengue fever. Mild cases may be treated at home with rest and plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. You may take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. But don't take anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (such as Aleve). They may increase the risk of bleeding. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. People with mild cases of dengue fever usually feel better within 2 weeks.

Dengue hemorrhagic fever, the more serious form of dengue fever, usually requires treatment in a hospital. You may need intravenous (IV) fluids to treat dehydration. You also may need a blood transfusion to replace lost blood. You will be closely watched for signs of shock.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 27, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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