What are my chances of getting dengue fever if I travel to an affected area?
It's difficult to say for certain what your individual risk of catching dengue fever is – everyone who travels to an area where the virus is present is at some level of risk. Dengue fever is becoming more common worldwide. It’s now in over 100 countries, with cases increasing by 30 times over the last 50 years. Travellers who spend a long time in areas where dengue fever is common (such as expatriates or aid workers) have a greater risk. However, even short-term visitors may still be at risk.
Dengue fever is spread by the bite of a mosquito and causes an illness which can be a little like flu. Most people with dengue fever have symptoms which can be managed at home. However, occasionally, it can be quite a severe illness needing hospital care. It occurs in many tropical countries and can affect people from the UK who are travelling abroad.
Dengue fever is a viral illness that’s passed on by the Aedes mosquito, a type of mosquito which bites mainly during the daytime. This mosquito doesn’t live in the UK. 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.
Most people in the UK who catch dengue fever have travelled to South-East Asia and India. In 2012, 343 people were diagnosed with dengue fever in the UK. All were people who had recently returned from travelling abroad.
The exact symptoms you get may 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’ve recently travelled to an area that’s affected by dengue fever and have any of these symptoms, contact your GP. Remember to tell them that you’ve been travelling and where so that they know it could be dengue fever.
Dengue fever can sometimes develop into a serious, potentially fatal illness. It’s most likely to happen in children under 15. This is rare in the UK though because it’s thought only to occur if you’re infected again.
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 one. Mosquitoes become infected when they bite an infected person. They are able to pass on the virus for the rest of their life (two to three months). Dengue fever isn’t passed directly from person to person.
There are four different but closely related types (serotypes) of the flavivirus that cause dengue fever. Once you’ve 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. Tell them if you’ve recently travelled abroad and whether you’ve been exposed to mosquitoes. It can be difficult for your GP to diagnose dengue fever because the symptoms are similar to many other bacterial and viral infections.
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 signs of the virus in your blood and/or certain antibodies for dengue fever. These can 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. However, 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’ll need to be admitted to hospital. You may need to have fluids through a drip in your arm. Most people make a full recovery if they receive the right treatment.
At the moment, 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. Make sure you always take the necessary precautions to help reduce your risk of catching dengue fever.
Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information Team, August 2014.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
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.
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