Dengue

Mosquitoes and the itchy, sometimes painful welts they leave behind after biting are not enjoyed by most people. Did you know that some mosquitoes can leave more than just those annoying welts? Some mosquitoes can carry diseases and spread them to each person they bite. Dengue (DEN-gay) is one of the diseases that can be spread by the Aedes mosquito.

Dengue is a potentially serious viral infection transmitted through mosquito bites. It causes symptoms ranging from fever and headaches to severe complications, and there is currently no specific antiviral treatment for the disease. If you believe you have dengue, it is important to seek supportive medical care.

The best way to protect against dengue is to avoid mosquito bites.

Types of Dengue

The word "dengue" refers to four related viruses: dengue-1, dengue-2, dengue-3, and dengue-4. Because there are four different types, one can become sick with one type and then another. The second time someone gets dengue, it is generally more severe, meaning the symptoms may be debilitating. However, you are unlikely to get the same type twice because your body will have life-long immunity.

Symptoms

Some people will never know they have dengue because they will not have symptoms. These people are referred to as "asymptomatic."

However, about 1 in 4 people with dengue will feel sick. These people are referred to as "symptomatic." The symptoms of dengue can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Skin itching and rash
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pains
  • Joint pains

If you have these symptoms, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor and share recent travel you had in the past 2-3 months and when your symptoms started. Your doctor can determine if testing for dengue or other diseases may be right for you based on your information.

In rare cases, people may get severe dengue. It is estimated that this happens in 1 out of every 20 people with dengue. There are warning signs for severe dengue that are important to remember. Severe dengue is a medical emergency that can escalate within hours. Please get immediate medical care if you have any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Belly pain, tenderness
  • Persistent vomiting (at least three times in 24 hours)
  • Bleeding from the nose or gums
  • Vomiting blood, or blood in the stool
  • Feeling tired, restless, or irritable

Testing

If your doctor suspects you have dengue, he or she may order testing to confirm this diagnosis. To do this, your doctor will need to take a sample and send it to a lab that will look for evidence of dengue infection. In rare cases, that sample may be sent to another laboratory for additional testing. All results will be sent to your doctor, who will then explain what they mean.

Treatment

Currently, there is no specific antiviral treatment for dengue. Most people sick with dengue can get better on their own within 2-7 days of first feeling the symptoms. During this time, it is essential to rest as much as possible, take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) for fever, and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the preferred treatment for fevers, aches, and pains associated with the dengue virus.

It is important to note that taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), Asprin, and naproxen sodium (Aleve) can be dangerous for people with dengue. This is because these drugs, combined with the dengue virus, can increase the risk of bleeding and issues with the liver.

Prevention

The best way to prevent dengue and other diseases spread by mosquitoes is to avoid mosquito bites. For great information on how to best avoid bites, please see the CDC's webpage on Preventing Mosquito Bites.

A dengue vaccine is available but is limited in its use. Please visit the CDC's webpage About a Dengue Vaccine for more up-to-date information.

Dengue FAQs

  • How is dengue spread?

    Dengue is a disease caused by a virus mainly spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that carry the dengue virus are called Aedes mosquitoes. These mosquitoes become infected when they bite a person who already has dengue. Once infected, the mosquito can then transmit the virus to other people it bites.

    For more information on mosquitoes in Georgia, please visit DPH Environmental Health's Insects and Diseases web page. 

    For more information on mosquitos in the United States and the diseases they can spread, please visit the CDC's About Mosquitoes in the United States webpage.

  • What are the symptoms of dengue?

    Dengue symptoms can vary, but they typically include:

    1. High Fever: Dengue often starts with a sudden, high fever.
    2. Severe Headache: Intense headaches are a common symptom.
    3. Pain Behind the Eyes: Many people with dengue experience pain or discomfort behind the eyes.
    4. Joint and Muscle Pain: Aching muscles and joints are common, earning dengue the nickname "breakbone fever."
    5. Nausea and Vomiting: Feeling queasy and vomiting can occur.
    6. Skin Rash: Some people develop a rash, which may appear a few days after the fever starts.
    7. Mild Bleeding: In some cases, dengue can cause mild bleeding, such as nosebleeds or gum bleeding.

    It's important to note that symptoms can range from mild to severe, and severe cases can lead to a more critical condition known as dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome. Because dengue can quickly progress from mild to severe, you should seek medical attention if you believe you have dengue. 

  • What is the treatment for dengue?

    Currently, there is no specific antiviral medication to treat dengue. Treatment mainly focuses on relieving symptoms and providing supportive care. Here are some common approaches to treating dengue:

    1. Stay Hydrated: Dengue can cause dehydration due to fever and vomiting. It's essential to drink plenty of fluids, such as water, oral rehydration solutions, or electrolyte beverages, to maintain hydration.
    2. Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (paracetamol) are often recommended to reduce fever and alleviate pain. Avoid using aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as they can increase the risk of bleeding.
    3. Rest: Getting enough rest is crucial for the body to recover from the infection. Adequate rest helps the immune system fight the virus.
    4. Medical Monitoring: In severe cases, especially if symptoms worsen or complications arise, hospitalization may be necessary. Medical professionals will monitor the patient's condition closely and provide appropriate care.

    Individuals with dengue need to seek medical attention promptly, especially if they experience severe symptoms or if the illness progresses to dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome. Early detection and proper medical care can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with dengue. 

  • How can I prevent getting dengue?

    Preventing dengue involves avoiding mosquito bites and reducing the risk of exposure to the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the virus. Here are some practical ways to prevent getting dengue:

    1. Use Mosquito Repellent: Apply an insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing. Look for repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus, as they are effective against mosquitoes.
    2. Wear Protective Clothing: Wear long sleeves, long pants, socks, and closed shoes, especially during peak mosquito activity times, which are early morning and late afternoon.
    3. Install Window and Door Screens: Use screens on windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from entering living spaces.
    4. Eliminate Standing Water: Aedes mosquitoes breed in standing water. Regularly empty, clean, or cover containers that collect and hold water, such as flower pots, buckets, and clogged gutters.
    5. Use Mosquito Nets: If you're sleeping in an area with a high risk of dengue, consider using bed nets treated with insecticide to protect yourself while sleeping.
    6. Stay in Air-Conditioned or Screened Accommodations: If you're in an area where dengue is prevalent, choose accommodations with air conditioning or screens on windows and doors.
    7. Be Informed: Stay informed about the risk of dengue in your area and take necessary precautions. Follow public health guidelines and recommendations.

    Practicing these preventive measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of contracting dengue. It's important to note that dengue is present in certain regions, so travelers should be especially cautious when visiting areas with a known risk of dengue transmission.

  • How is dengue diagnosed?

    The diagnosis of dengue typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation, laboratory tests, and a patient's medical history. Here are the standard methods used for diagnosing dengue virus infection:

    1. Clinical Assessment: Healthcare professionals assess the patient's symptoms, medical history, and any potential exposure to mosquitoes in regions where dengue is prevalent.
    2. Blood Tests: Laboratory tests are crucial for confirming a dengue infection. The two primary types of blood tests used are:
      1. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): This test detects the genetic material of the dengue virus in the blood. It is particularly useful in the early stages of infection.
      2. Serology Test: This test looks for antibodies the immune system produces in response to the dengue virus. Immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies are often present soon after a person gets sick, while Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies develop later.
      3. Complete Blood Count (CBC): A CBC can reveal changes in blood cell counts, such as a decrease in platelets, which is common in dengue cases.
      4. NS1 Antigen Test: This test detects the presence of the dengue virus NS1 antigen in the blood. It is often used in the early stages of infection.

    The combination of these tests helps healthcare professionals confirm a dengue diagnosis. It's essential to consult with a healthcare provider if dengue is suspected, as prompt diagnosis and appropriate medical care are crucial for managing the illness. Early detection allows for better monitoring and reduces the risk of severe complications associated with dengue.

  • How many dengue cases are reported in Georgia and the US each year?

    The Georgia Department of Public Health tracks and monitors cases of mosquito diseases, including dengue, through passive surveillance systems, which rely on healthcare providers to submit laboratory results and medical records for review. 

    Georgia Data

    From 2018 to 2022, 14 dengue cases were reported in Georgia residents. It is important to note that all dengue cases were imported, meaning people picked up the disease outside of Georgia. At this time, we have no evidence of local transmission of dengue.

    National Data

    Data and Statistics on Dengue in the United States [external link]

    Case Surveillance

    What is Case Surveillance? (CSTE) [external link]

    NOTE: Disease surveillance systems primarily count cases based on the patient's residential location rather than the specific exposure location.

     

  • Where can I get more information on dengue?

    If you believe you have dengue, please consult your healthcare provider. 

    Additionally, you can use the following links to learn more.

    CDC - Dengue [external link]

    WHO - Dengue and severe dengue [external link]

    For information on local surveillance, contact your local health district or the Georgia Department of Public Health, Epidemiology Section at 404-657-2588 and ask to speak to the Vectorborne Disease Team.

Page updated: 6/28/2024