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Dengue

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is dengue?

Dengue is a disease caused by 4 different viruses. Infection by one virus does not provide immunity against the other 3. This means you can get dengue up to 4 times. A dengue virus may cause a mild to severe infection.

What are the signs and symptoms of dengue?

You may not have symptoms. Any of the following may develop 4 to 10 days after infection, usually lasting up to 7 days:

  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
  • Headache, eye pain, or joint and muscle pain
  • Feeling tired, weak, or restless
  • Flushed, warm skin, or a rash

How is dengue diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. Tell him or her if you have recently traveled. You will need blood tests to check for infection and measure your blood cell levels. Dengue cannot be cured. You may need the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • You may need treatment in a hospital for severe symptoms. You may need to be monitored closely for problems such as bleeding and low blood pressure. You may need IV fluids to treat dehydration and increase your blood pressure. You may need a blood transfusion if dengue causes severe bleeding.

What can I do to manage dengue?

  • Do not take NSAIDs or aspirin. These medicines can increase your risk for bleeding.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. You are at risk for dehydration if you have a fever, are vomiting, or have diarrhea. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. You may need to drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS). This is a drink that contains the right amount of salt, sugar, and minerals in water. It is the best oral liquid for replacing your body fluids. Ask your healthcare provider where you can get an ORS. An ORS can be given in small amounts (about 1 teaspoon at a time) if you or your child is vomiting. If you or your child vomits, wait 30 minutes and try again. Ask healthcare providers how much ORS you or your child needs.
  • Rest as directed. Ask your healthcare provider when you can return to your normal activities.

What do I need to know about the dengue vaccine?

A vaccine to protect against a dengue virus infection is not generally recommended currently. The vaccine is only recommended for children 9 through 16 years old who live in an area where dengue is common. A past dengue virus infection must be confirmed before the vaccine will be given. The vaccine is given as a shot in 3 doses, each 6 months apart. It can be given with other vaccines.

How is a dengue virus spread?

A dengue virus is most commonly spread to a human through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes are usually found near water. Examples include ponds, buckets of water, animal dishes, and flower pots. The number of infected mosquitos may increase during rainy or humid seasons. A dengue virus may be passed from a mother to her unborn baby.

How can I help prevent the spread of dengue viruses?

Do not travel to areas where a dengue virus is common. Ask your healthcare provider where it is safe to travel. Prevent mosquito bites to decrease the risk that you will spread or get a dengue virus infection:

  • Apply insect repellent. Ask your healthcare provider which insect repellent is right for you. Follow directions on the insect repellent container. The following is a list of tips for insect repellent use:
    • Do not apply insect repellent to skin under clothing.
    • Apply sunscreen before you apply insect repellent.
    • Wear insect repellent any time you plan to be outside. Wear insect repellent at all times if you travel or live in a high risk area. Reapply insect repellent as directed.
    • Do not apply insect repellent to a child's hands, eyes, mouth, or open skin.
    • To apply insect repellent to a child's face, first apply it to your hands. Then apply it to the child's face. Do not touch the child's eyes or mouth with your hands.
    • Do not apply insect repellent to a child younger than 2 months. Instead, dress your child in clothing that covers his or her arms and legs.
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants. This will protect your skin from mosquito bites.
  • Sleep in a screened-in room. Keep doors closed. Use a mosquito net around your bed. Cover children's cribs, strollers, and baby carriers with mosquito nets. When you travel, choose a place to stay with screens on all windows and doors.
  • Apply insect repellent to clothing and gear. This includes boots, pants, socks, and tents. Do this when you camp, hike, or work outside. You can also buy clothing and gear that comes with insect repellent already on it.
  • Remove containers of water. Examples are animal bowls, buckets of water, and bird baths. Water can attract mosquitos. If possible, remove water from blocked gutters. Keep drinking water covered or in bottles.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You faint or lose consciousness.

When should I seek immediate care?

The following are warning signs that your infection is getting worse:

  • Your heart is beating faster than usual.
  • You urinate less than usual or not at all.
  • You feel confused or anxious.
  • Your skin is pale and feels cold or clammy.
  • You have bruises or small red or purple dots on your skin.
  • You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.
  • You cannot stop vomiting or you vomit blood.
  • You have blood in your bowel movements or your bowel movements look like tar.
  • You have irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your symptoms do not improve within 3 days.
  • You are pregnant or think you are pregnant.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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