Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies



Dengue fever

Dengue fever is an illness that occurs in many tropical countries. You can’t get it in the UK, but you can if you travel abroad to affected areas. It’s spread by the bite of a mosquito and causes an illness which can be similar to flu. Most people with dengue fever have symptoms that can be managed at home. But, occasionally, it can be quite severe meaning you’ll need to go to hospital.

Map showing world dengue fever distribution


  • About What is dengue fever?

    Dengue fever is a viral illness that’s passed on by the Aedes mosquito, which bites mainly during the daytime. This mosquito is found in many countries throughout the world, but not the UK. It’s 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 getting dengue fever.

    In 2014, 347 people were diagnosed with dengue fever in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. All had recently returned from travelling abroad. More than half of cases were in people who’d travelled to South-East Asia. Almost another quarter of cases had travelled to India and Sri Lanka. The rest had been to the Caribbean, South and Central America and East Africa.

    There have recently been reports of dengue fever in Europe, with cases in Madeira, France and Croatia.

  • Symptoms Symptoms of dengue fever

    It generally takes between four and seven days for the first symptoms to start after you’ve been bitten. The maximum is 14 days. Symptoms that appear more than two weeks after you’ve been abroad are unlikely to be caused by dengue fever.

    The symptoms of dengue are similar to the flu. The exact symptoms you get may depend on your age. In some cases, the illness can be so mild that you don’t notice any symptoms at all.

    Children under 15 are most likely to have a fever and rash, but may not have any other symptoms.

    In older teenagers and adults, the most common symptoms of dengue are:

    • a fever that comes on quickly and lasts two to seven days
    • skin flushing, especially in the face – this can be the first sign of the illness
    • a headache and pain behind your eyes, which can be severe
    • severe back pain and pain in your muscles, joints and bones  – dengue fever is also known as ‘breakbone fever’
    • a red rash that can affect your whole body and typically starts on the third or fourth day of the infection
    • feeling or being sick
    • loss of appetite

    There are other symptoms that can suggest that the illness is becoming more serious. For more information, see our section on Complications of dengue fever.

    These symptoms can be caused by problems other than dengue fever. However, 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 where you’ve been abroad. This may help your GP to work out if you have dengue fever or another tropical disease.

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of dengue fever

    Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Tell them if you’ve recently travelled abroad and whether you’ve been bitten by mosquitoes. It can be difficult for your GP to diagnose dengue fever because the symptoms are similar to more common bacterial and viral infections.

    If your GP suspects you have dengue fever, they’ll ask you to have a blood test and may contact a local tropical disease centre for specialist advice. Depending on your symptoms and where you have travelled, you may be asked to have further blood tests to check for signs of dengue fever and other tropical diseases.

    If your doctor suspects you’re one of the small number of people who develops more severe dengue fever, you may have other tests, such as a chest X-ray or abdominal ultrasound and will be admitted to hospital for emergency treatment.

  • Treatment Treatment of dengue fever

    There’s no specific treatment for dengue fever. However, your body will usually fight off the virus within three to four days of the rash appearing. You’ll need to rest and follow your doctor’s advice. For more information, see our section on Self-help.

    Most people make a full recovery. But it’s possible that you’ll continue to feel tired and have muscle and joint pain for some time after.

    Hospital treatment

    Dengue fever can become more serious in a small number of people. You may need to be admitted to hospital if:

    • you become severely dehydrated from being sick
    • your symptoms suddenly become worse
    • you develop signs of complications such as dengue haemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome – see our Complications section for more information

    You may need to have fluids through a drip in your arm.

    You may also be admitted to hospital if you could be at higher risk of complications. This includes pregnant women, babies, older people or people who have other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma.

    Most people make a full recovery if they receive the right treatment.

  • Bupa Travel Insurance

    We offer adaptable cover for a range of holidays including family getaways, short breaks, business trips and more.

  • Self-help How to help yourself

    There are things you can do to help your recovery.

    • Rest and drink plenty of fluids. Adults should try to have four pints (2½ litres) a day. Your GP may suggest that you take oral rehydration salts to help prevent you becoming dehydrated.
    • Take paracetamol to help relieve pain and reduce fever. Don’t take aspirin or ibuprofen as this can increase your risk of bleeding.

    Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

  • Causes Causes of dengue fever

    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.

    Below is a picture of the Aedes mosquito – notice its characteristic black and white markings.

    A tiger mosquito
  • Complications Complications of dengue fever

    Dengue fever can sometimes develop into a serious, potentially fatal illness. Progressions of dengue fever include.

    • Dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) – symptoms include bleeding from under your skin, your gums and nose, and you may also vomit blood or pass blood in your faeces.
    • Dengue shock syndrome (DSS) – symptoms include severe pain in your abdomen (tummy), a weak and rapid pulse, vomiting, feeling irritable and feeling cold and clammy.

    You’re more likely to develop serious illness if you’ve been infected with dengue virus more than once and with the different types of the virus. So, people who live in areas where dengue fever is regularly found are more likely to be affected. Children under the age of 15 are also more at risk.

    You can learn more about the different types of the dengue virus in our FAQ: Dengue, previous infection and immunity below.

    If you have any of these symptoms, seek urgent medical attention.

  • Prevention Prevention of dengue fever

    At the moment, there aren’t any vaccines or medicines available in the UK to prevent dengue fever. There’s a new vaccine, but it’s only for use in areas where dengue fever is common. The only way to prevent catching it is to protect yourself from getting bitten by mosquitoes.

    Advice for avoiding mosquito bites

    • Wear loose-fitting, protective clothing that covers as much of your body as possible during the daytime and especially at dawn and dusk.
    • Use an insect repellent on areas of your skin that are exposed and on clothing made from natural fibres – especially around loose parts such as collars or cuffs. Repellents containing a chemical known as DEET (N, N-diethylmetatoluamide) are thought to be the best. Picaridin is a newer repellent that is said to work as well as DEET. Permethrin is a repellent that you can spray on your clothes.
    • If you are using sunscreen during the day, put insect repellent on afterwards and reapply each time you’ve reapplied your sunscreen.
    • You can use plug-in devices with insecticides in them or mosquito coils to kill mosquitoes, but only use coils outdoors.
    • Sleep under a mosquito net treated with insecticides to avoid being bitten while in bed.
    • The mosquito that transmits dengue fever prefers to breed in water-filled domestic containers. If there are any nearby, try to get them removed or covered up. Be aware also that small pools of water around building sites in tourist resorts are attractive places for these mosquitoes to reside.

    It's most important to follow these precautions around dawn and dusk because this is when the Aedes mosquito is most likely to bite. However, it's important to remember that they 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.

  • FAQ: Is dengue fever contagious? Can I catch dengue fever from another person?

    No, you can't catch dengue fever from another person just by being in close contact with them. Very rarely, dengue fever can be passed on through organ transplants, blood transfusions or from an infected mother to her unborn child. There was one case in the UK in 2014 caused by a needle-stick injury but this is extremely rare.

    Dengue fever is passed on through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This is a type of mosquito that lives in tropical areas so you can’t catch dengue fever in the UK.

    If you have dengue fever, you should take extra care to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes because that mosquito could become infected and pass dengue fever on to other people it bites. For more information on ways to prevent getting bitten, see our section on Prevention of dengue fever.

    There’s some evidence that the virus may be able to pass from pregnant, infected women to their unborn babies, but this is very unlikely to happen. If you're pregnant and think you may have dengue fever, contact your GP.

    If you need more information, contact your GP practice or a health professional at a travel clinic.

  • FAQ: Dengue fever and risk of infection What are the chances of me getting dengue fever?

    There are several different factors that can affect your chances of getting dengue fever. These include where you're travelling to, how long you're staying and what time of the year you travel.

    It's difficult to say for certain what your individual risk 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. There were three and a half times as many cases across the world in the 2000s as in the 1990s. It’s also likely that dengue fever is underreported as many cases are so mild.

    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.

    The seasons can affect how active mosquitoes are and how many there are. If you’re in a country that has dengue fever and you’re there during the rainy season, your risk may be higher.

    The best advice is to always protect yourself from getting mosquito bites if you're travelling to an affected area. For more information on how to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes see our section on Prevention of dengue fever.

  • FAQ: Dengue and DEET What concentration of DEET should I use?

    DEET is an insect repellent that can stop mosquitoes from biting and so prevent infection with dengue fever and other mosquito-borne illnesses. It is thought to be the most effective insect repellent.

    Products containing DEET are available in several different concentrations – the higher the concentration, the longer the duration of protection.

    • Less than 10 per cent DEET gives you between one and three hours of protection.
    • 10–20 per cent DEET gives you between four and six hours of protection.
    • 40 per cent DEET gives you around 10 hours of protection.

    You don’t need to use a concentration higher than 50 per cent, as tests have shown that higher concentrations don’t protect you for longer.

    You shouldn’t use DEET-containing products on babies under two months old. DEET is considered safe if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, but the advice is not to use concentrations over 50 per cent.

    Always use DEET-containing products according to the manufacturer's instructions, making sure you don’t get it into your eyes or mouth.

  • FAQ: Dengue, previous infection and immunity Am I immune if I’ve already had the infection?

    There are four different but closely related types of the flavivirus that causes dengue fever. Once you've been infected by one type of the virus you’re immune to re-infection with that type for the rest of your life.

    Your infection will also protect you against catching one of the other three types for a few months. But after that, you’re just as likely to be infected with the other virus types as anyone else.

    It’s extremely important to continue to use protection against mosquito bites if you’ve had dengue fever. If you’re infected with a second type of the virus, you’re at increased risk of developing a more severe illness. You’ll also protect yourself against other diseases spread by mosquitoes.

    For more information, see our sections on Prevention of dengue fever and Complications of dengue fever above.

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information


    • Dengue fever. BMJ Best Practice., last updated June 2016
    • Dengue factsheet. Travel Health Pro., last updated September 2015
    • Dengue guidelines for diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control. World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR)., last updated 2009
    • Dengue reported in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: 2014. Public Health England., published November 2015
    • Dengue clinical presentation. Medscape., last updated October 2015
    • Dengue treatment and management. Medscape., last updated October 2015
    • Comprehensive guidelines for prevention and control of dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever. World Health Organisation (WHO), Regional Office for South-East Asia., published 2011
    • Dengue fever. PatientPlus., last updated November 2016
    • Dengue. Medscape., last updated October 2015
    • Insect and tick bite avoidance. Travel Health Pro., last updated May 2016
    • Dengue. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last updated June 2014
    • Find the insect repellent that is right for you. United States Environmental Protection Agency., accessed February 2017
    • Seet RC, Quek AM, Lim EC. Post-infectious fatigue syndrome in dengue infection. J Clin Virol 2007; 38(1):1–6
    • Garcia G, Gonzalez N, Perez AB, et al. Long-term persistence of clinical symptoms in dengue-infected persons and its association with immunological disorders. Int J Infect Dis 2011; 15(1):e38–43. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2010.09.008
    • Personal communication, Professor Martin Wiselka, Consultant in Infectious Diseases, March 2017
    • Dengue and the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention., accessed April 2014
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Laura Blanks, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, March 2017
    Expert reviewer Professor Martin Wiselka, Consultant in Infectious Diseases
    Next review due March 2020

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.

    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
    verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Nick Ridgman

Nick Ridgman
Head of Health Content

  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
  • Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor, Content Library
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor, Insights
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.


In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.


We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.


We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Bupa House
15-19 Bloomsbury Way

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content 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 information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.