Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dengue Fever

What is dengue fever?
Dengue fever is a disease caused by a family of viruses that are transmitted by mosquitoes. It is an acute illness of sudden onset that usually follows a benign course with headache, fever, exhaustion, severe joint and muscle pain, swollen glands (lymphadenopathy), and rash. The presence (the "dengue triad") of fever, rash, and headache (and other pains) is particularly characteristic of dengue. Dengue (pronounced DENG-gay) strikes people with low levels of immunity. Because it is caused by one of four serotypes of virus, it is possible to get dengue fever multiple times. However, an attack of dengue produces immunity for a lifetime to that particular serotype to which the patient was exposed.

Dengue goes by other names, including "breakbone" or "dandy fever." Victims of dengue often have contortions due to the intense joint and muscle pain, hence the name breakbone fever. Slaves in the West Indies who contracted dengue were said to have dandy fever because of their postures and gait.

Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a more severe form of the viral illness. Manifestations include headache, fever, rash, and evidence of hemorrhage in the body. Petechiae (small red or purple blisters under the skin), bleeding in the nose or gums, black stools, or easy bruising are all possible signs of hemorrhage. This form of dengue fever can be life-threatening or even fatal.

What areas are at high risk for contracting dengue fever?
Dengue is prevalent throughout the tropics and subtropics. Outbreaks have occurred in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba, and Central America. Cases have also been imported via tourists returning from areas with widespread dengue, including Tahiti, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, the West Indies, India, and the Middle East.

Dengue fever is common and may be increasing in Southeast Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia have all reported an increase in cases. According to the World Health Organization, there were 188,684 cases of dengue reported in 2006, with Indonesia having 57% of the reported cases.

How is dengue contracted?
The virus is contracted from the bite of a striped Aedes aegypti mosquito that has previously bitten an infected person. The mosquito flourishes during rainy seasons but can breed in water-filled flower pots, plastic bags, and cans year-round. One mosquito bite can inflict the disease.
The virus is not contagious and cannot be spread directly from person to person. There must be a person-to-mosquito-to-another-person pathway.

What are the signs and symptoms of dengue?
After being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus, the incubation period ranges from three to 15 (usually five to eight) days before the signs and symptoms of dengue appear. Dengue starts with chills, headache, pain upon moving the eyes, and low backache. Painful aching in the legs and joints occurs during the first hours of illness. The temperature rises quickly as high as 104?F (40?C), with relative low heart rate (bradycardia) and low blood pressure (hypotension). The eyes become reddened. A flushing or pale pink rash comes over the face and then disappears. The glands (lymph nodes) in the neck and groin are often swollen.

Fever and other signs of dengue last for two to four days, followed by rapid drop in temperature (defervescence) with profuse sweating. This precedes a period with normal temperature and a sense of well-being that lasts about a day. A second rapid rise in temperature follows. A characteristic rash appears along with the fever and spreads from the extremities to cover the entire body except the face. The palms and soles may be bright red and swollen.

How is dengue fever treated?
Because dengue is caused by a virus, there is no specific medicine or antibiotic to treat it. For typical dengue, the treatment is purely concerned with relief of the symptoms (symptomatic). Rest and fluid intake for adequate hydration is important. Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and codeine may be given for severe headache and for the joint and muscle pain (myalgia).

What is the outcome with typical dengue?
Typical dengue does not result in death. It is fatal in less than 1% of cases. The acute phase of the illness with fever and myalgias lasts about one to two weeks. Convalescence is accompanied by a feeling of weakness (asthenia), and full recovery often takes several weeks.

What is dengue hemorrhagic fever?
Dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) is a specific syndrome that tends to affect children under 10. It causes abdominal pain, hemorrhage (bleeding), and circulatory collapse (shock). DHF is also called Philippine, Thai, or Southeast Asian hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.

DHF starts abruptly with high continuous fever and headache. There are respiratory and intestinal symptoms with sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Shock occurs two to six days after the start of symptoms with sudden collapse, cool, clammy extremities (the trunk is often warm), weak pulse, and blueness around the mouth (circumoral cyanosis).

In DHF, there is bleeding with easy bruising, blood spots in the skin (petechiae), spitting up blood (hematemesis), blood in the stool (melena), bleeding gums, and nosebleeds (epistaxis). Pneumonia is common, and inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) may be present.

Patients with DHF must be monitored closely for the first few days since shock may occur or recur precipitously. Cyanotic (bluish) patients are given oxygen. Vascular collapse (shock) requires immediate fluid replacement. Blood transfusions may be needed to control bleeding.
The mortality, or death rate, with DHF is significant. It ranges from 6%-30%. Most deaths occur in children. Infants under a year of age are especially at risk of dying from DHF.

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