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Dengue Fever: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

  • Published: 2013-11-01 (Revised/Updated 2016-01-06) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Information regarding Dengue Fever a dangerous tropic and subtropic illness caused by viruses transmitted by mosquitoes.

Greater than one-third of the population of the world today lives in areas at risk of transmission of dengue infection.

Also known as breakbone fever, is an infectious tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles. Treatment of acute dengue is supportive, using either oral or intravenous re-hydration for mild or moderate disease, and intravenous fluids and blood transfusion for more severe cases.

Dengue is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. As many as 100 million people become infected each year. Dengue is caused by any 1 of 4 related viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. At this time there are no vaccines to prevent infection with dengue virus and the most effective protective measures are ones that avoid mosquito bites. When a person becomes infected, early recognition and prompt treatment may substantially lower their risk of developing severe disease.

Dengue has become a worldwide issue since the 1950's. While dengue rarely happens in the continental United States, it is endemic in Puerto Rico and in a number of popular tourist destinations in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Periodic outbreaks happen in Guam and Samoa.

Dengue fever is a disease caused by a family of viruses which are transmitted by mosquito's. It is an acute form of illness with sudden onset that commonly follows a benign course with symptoms that include:

Chart showing symptoms of dengue feverAbout This Image: Chart showing symptoms of dengue feverThe experience of a rash, fever, and headache in conjunction with other pains is especially characteristic of dengue. Additional signs of dengue fever include severe pain behind the eyes, bleeding gums, and red palms and soles of the person's feet.

Dengue may affect anyone, yet tends to be more severe in people with compromised immune systems. Due to the fact that it is caused by 1 of 4 serotypes of virus it is possible to get dengue fever several times. Fortunately, an attack of dengue produces immunity for a lifetime to the particular serotype to which the person was exposed.

Dengue is also referred to by other names including, 'dandy fever,' or, 'breakbone.' People who have experienced dengue many times have contortions due to the intense muscle and joint pain, hence the name, 'breakbone fever.' Slaves in the West Indies who contracted dengue were said to have, 'dandy fever,' due to their gait and posture.

The virus is contracted through the bite of a striped, 'Aedes aegypti,' mosquito that has previously bitten an infected person. The mosquito thrives during rainy seasons, yet also has the ability to breed in water-filled cans, plastic bags, and flower pots all year round. A single mosquito bite has the potential to cause the disease. The virus is not contagious; fortunately, and cannot be spread through direct person-to-person contact. There must be a person-to-mosquito-to-another-person pathway of infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Dengue Fever

Once a person has been bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus, the incubation period ranges from 3 to 15, often times 5 to 8, days before they begin experiencing signs and symptoms of dengue, which appear in stages. Dengue begins with:

A person experiences painful aching in their joints and legs within the first hours of illness. An infected person's temperature rises rapidly to as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit and they heart rate lowers, as well as their blood pressure. Their eyes become red and a pale pink or flushing rash appears over their face and then disappears. The person's glands (lymph nodes) in their groin and neck many times become swollen.

The fever and additional signs of dengue last for 2 to 4 days, followed by a rapid drop in the person's body temperature along with abundant sweating. The experience precedes a period with average temperature and a sense of well-being that lasts around a day. A second quick rise in temperature soon follows. A characteristic rash appears with the fever and spreads from the person's extremities to cover their entire body with the exception of their face. The palms of the person's hands and the soles of their feet might become bright red and swollen.

Diagnosing Dengue Fever

A diagnosis of dengue fever is commonly made when a person presents the typical clinical symptoms of fever, headache, severe muscle aches, eye pain and rash and has a history of being in an area where dengue fever is endemic. Dengue fever may be hard to diagnose because its symptoms overlap with ones of a number of other viral illnesses such as, 'Chikungunya fever,' and West Nile virus.

The year 2011 found the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving a blood test to diagnose people with dengue fever. The test is called the, 'DENV Detect IgM Capture ELISA. The FDA has noted that the new test might also present a positive result when a person has a closely related virus such as West Nile disease.

Treatment and Prognosis of Dengue Fever

Because dengue fever is caused by a virus there is no specific antibiotic or medication to treat it. For typical dengue the treatment involves providing relief of the symptoms the person is experiencing. Rest and fluids for adequate hydration is clearly important. Aspirin and NSAID's should only be administered under the supervision of a doctor because of the potential of worsening bleeding complications. Acetaminophen and codeine might be administered for severe muscle and joint pain or severe headache.

Typical dengue is fatal in less than 1% of those infected. The acute phase of the illness with fever and other symptoms last around several days. A person experiences a feeling of weakness and a period of rest and recovery. A full recovery from dengue many times takes several weeks.


Dengue is transmitted by the bite of an Aedes mosquito infected with any one of the four dengue virus serotypes. It is a febrile illness that affects infants, young children and adults with symptoms appearing 3-14 days after the infective bite. Dengue is not transmitted directly from person-to-person and symptoms range from a mild fever, to incapacitating high fever, with severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, and rash.

Dengue fever

Dengue (DENG-gay) fever is a mosquito-borne disease that occurs in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Mild dengue fever causes high fever, rash, and muscle and joint pain. A severe form of dengue fever, also called dengue hemorrhagic fever, can cause severe bleeding, a sudden drop in blood pressure (shock) and death. Millions of cases of dengue infection occur worldwide each year.


Dengue is an infection caused by a virus. You can get it if an infected mosquito bites you. Dengue does not spread from person to person. It is common in warm, wet areas of the world. Outbreaks occur in the rainy season. Dengue is rare in the United States.

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