Dengue is not a virus that can be spread directly from person to person. It needs a conduit, and the female Aedes Aegypti is happy to oblige. Dengue spreads through the human population when a mosquito bites someone infected with the disease and goes on to bite someone else; it only takes one bite for the virus to take hold.
The first sign of dengue is the onset of a very high fever, usually accompanied by a headache and muscle and joint pain. (In infants and toddlers, the pain appears to be much less than in adult cases of the disease). One telltale sign of the condition is a skin rash that appears blotchy, close to the skin, red and inflamed. (In infants and toddlers, the blotchiness/redness often appears under the soles of the feet and on the palms of the hands). The most important thing you can do to manage the disease is to stay well hydrated, drinking lots of fluids like coconut water and fresh fruit juice, which help to restore electrolyte and water levels to the body. Good foods to eat include fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and avocadoes, which are all great sources of electrolytes.
Effective management of dengue symptoms is critical in order to avoid the disease progressing to one of two life-threatening stages:
• Dengue haemorragic fever, which, as its moniker suggests,can cause severe haemorrage (young children are particularly susceptible) and
• Dengue shock syndrome, where unusually low blood pressure can lead to organ breakdown
These two dangerous stages are usually accompanied by respiratory and intestinal problems, which may worsen to shock anywhere between two days to a week after the onset of symptoms – these can include sore throat, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. You know you are entering the danger zone when the body’s extremities are cool and clammy; you may even notice a slight tinge of blue around the mouth. The haemorragic strain of dengue can cause bleeding (either via spit up, nosebleeds, bleeding gums or in the stool). Pneumonia is also common and blood transfusions may be needed to control bleeding. The mortality rate is significant at this stage of the disease, with children, the elderly and the infirmed being at higher risk.
The good news is that there are practical steps you can take to try and avoid coming into contact with mosquitoes in the first place…
Be an ungracious host
The disease thrives in tropical climates like ours during the rainy season, when stagnant water becomes a rich breeding ground for mosquitoes. Ensure that your surroundings are not encouraging to dengue carriers.
Ready, net, go!
Mosquito netting is a simple and affordable solution to avoid getting bitten while you sleep. Take a cue from Project Mosquito Net – a collaboration that provided mosquito nets to children and pregnant women in Kenya as a way to stem the spread of malaria. Bottom line? The incidence of the disease plummeted!
White is the new black
Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours, so lighten up – wear light coloured clothing, position a light throw over dark furniture. Long sleeves and pants minimise the likelihood of getting bitten, and you may also choose to spray yourself with “eau de mosquito” – repellent sprays and citronella oil have been known to keep the pests at bay, but you will need to keep re-applying.
Make a racquet
There’s something to be said for the effectiveness of those mosquito racquets – they certainly do the job! Less sporty types may prefer traditional insecticide sprays, which are also effective, once you’re okay with the chemical smell.
Tell the Ministry
Speaking of chemicals, one of the most effective ways to keep the mosquito population under control is regular spraying by the Ministry of Health – so if you’re convinced that fogging in your area is overdue, make your voice heard.