How To Protect Yourself From Dengue Fever and Chikungunya

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Many parts of the country have been seeing an extremely rainy May and June this year, which means mosquito season is upon us. They can be more than a nuisance at your backyard barbeque; mosquitos can carry diseases. According to the CDC, since we are a global society and travel extensively, we are now seeing the introduction of new diseases into the US.

Dengue Fever
Dengue is a virus infection that is transmitted through the bite of an Aedes mosquito. Common in the tropic and subtropics, we have seen outbreaks in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and cases in the Florida Keys. The symptoms include high fevers, severe headache with pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint aches, a rash and mild bleeding of the nose or gums. There is no specific treatment because it is a viral illness so antibiotics do not work. At the present, there is no vaccine either, but with early recognition and good medical management such as pain relievers, rest and fluid replacement, most people can recover. Interestingly contrary to most illnesses younger children actually have a milder course of the disease than compared with older kids and adults. However, there is a more severe often fatal form called Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF). If unrecognized it can result in bleeding internally from low platelet counts, which are the clotting particles, found in the blood. This then causes abdominal pain and shortness of breath from bleeding into the lungs and abdominal cavity, leading to shock. These individuals need to be hospitalized in an ICU setting.

This viral disease is spread through the bite of the Albopictus mosquito, known as the Asian tiger mosquito. Commonly seen in countries of Asia, Africa and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, this past year it was found for the first time in the islands in the Caribbean. The first case on U.S. soil was seen in Puerto Rico this summer. The most common symptom is severe joint pain with fever. The disease is not often fatal but the pain is extremely severe can be disabling. In fact, when it was first discovered in Africa near Mozambique and Tanzania, the natives of that region the Mokonde people named it chikungunya, the translation is “to be bent up or contorted” because of the pain. Those at risk for a more severe form of the disease are the very old and very young as well as people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease. Again there is no specific medication or vaccine, just pain relievers and fluids to prevent dehydration.

Prevention is key
During mosquito season there are prevention tips you can follow to protect yourself:

  • Eliminate any standing water around your house outside where mosquitos can breed in pots, planters or anything that can hold a puddle of water.
  • If possible use air-conditioning or use window screens or mosquito netting at night when you sleep.
  • Mosquitos are weak fliers, so if are outside dining or grilling use a fan to keep them away.
  • When the weather permits wear long sleeves and pants if you are spending a lot of time outdoors.
  • In endemic regions community-wide insecticides or larvicide spraying can be done.
  • Personal insect repellents containing DEET can be used to treat your clothes and skin but read the label and instruction very carefully. A natural insect repellent such as oil of lemon eucalyptus can be helpful too.

Lastly, early recognition is important. Therefore if you have spent a significant time outdoors and noticed you’ve gotten bitten and you develop a fever or just start to feel ill, talk with your doctor right away.