This factsheet is for people who have dengue fever, or who would like information about it.
Dengue fever is a flu-like illness that is caused by a virus and is spread by mosquitoes. Most people with dengue fever have mild symptoms but occasionally it can be quite a severe illness. It occurs in many tropical countries and can affect people from the UK who are travelling abroad.
Dengue fever, which is also known as breakbone fever, is a viral illness that is passed on by a type of mosquito called Aedes mosquito. It's found in many countries throughout the world and is particularly common in South East Asia, India, the Caribbean, South and Central America, and Africa. If you travel to one of these areas and don't protect yourself against mosquito bites, you may be at risk of catching dengue fever and other mosquito-borne infections such as malaria.
Most people in the UK who catch dengue fever have travelled to South-East Asia and India. In 2010, 406 people were diagnosed with dengue fever in the UK.
The exact symptoms you get depend on your age.
In older children, teenagers and adults, the most common symptoms of dengue are:
The symptoms of dengue fever usually begin between five and eight days after you get bitten by an infected mosquito. However, the illness can be so mild that you don’t notice any symptoms at all.
Young children with dengue often have a fever with a rash, but other symptoms are minor.
These symptoms can be caused by problems other than dengue fever. If you have recently travelled to an area that is affected by dengue fever and have any of these symptoms, see your GP.
Dengue fever can sometimes develop into a serious, potentially fatal illness.
If you have any of these symptoms, you must seek urgent medical attention.
Dengue fever is caused by a type of virus called a flavivirus, which is transmitted by infected female Aedes mosquitoes. You can catch the virus if you get bitten by an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they bite an infected person and are able to pass on the virus for the rest of their life.
There are four different but closely related types (serotypes) of the flavivirus that cause dengue fever. Once you have been infected by one type of the virus you become immune against that type for the rest of your life. However, getting infected with one type of the virus doesn't protect you against catching one of the other three types.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. You should tell him or her if you have recently travelled abroad.
If your GP suspects you have dengue fever, he or she may ask you to have a blood test. This is to see whether you have certain antibodies for dengue fever in your blood and will confirm whether you have the infection. Your blood will be sent to a laboratory for testing.
There isn't a specific treatment for dengue fever, but your body will usually fight off the virus within three to four days of the rash appearing.
There are things you can do to help your recovery.
If you're severely dehydrated, have severe symptoms of dengue haemorrhagic fever or your symptoms suddenly become worse, you will need to be admitted to hospital. You will need to have fluids through a drip in your arm. Most people make a full recovery if they receive appropriate treatment.
At present, there aren’t any vaccines or medicines to prevent dengue fever. The only way to prevent catching it is to protect yourself from getting bitten by mosquitoes. Advice for avoiding mosquito bites is as follows.
It's most important to follow these precautions around dawn and dusk, as this is when the Aedes mosquito is most active. However, it's important to remember that the Aedes mosquito can bite at any time of the day or night, so making sure you always take the necessary precautions can help to reduce your risk of catching dengue fever.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see Common questions.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
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This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
Produced by Krysta Munford, Bupa Health Information Team, February 2012.
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