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Dengue Symptoms


Understanding Dengue Fever: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Dengue fever, often called "breakbone fever" due to the severe pain it can cause, is a mosquito-borne illness that affects millions of people each year. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment of dengue fever, along with prevention strategies and risk factors. We'll also delve into the science behind the disease to better understand why platelets decrease in dengue fever.

Dengue fever is more than just a tropical illness; it’s a growing global health concern. With the increase in international travel and climate change, regions once free from this disease are now seeing cases. Understanding dengue fever—from its causes and symptoms to its treatment and prevention—is crucial in safeguarding our health.

Dengue Fever: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

What is Dengue Fever?

Dengue fever is a viral infection transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. It is prevalent in tropical and subtropical areas around the world, especially in urban and semi-urban environments. The virus responsible for dengue fever belongs to the Flavivirus genus, which also includes the viruses that cause Zika and yellow fever.

Dengue Fever Causes

Transmission by Mosquitoes

The primary cause of dengue fever is the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. These mosquitoes become carriers when they bite an infected person. Once infected, the mosquito can transmit the virus to other humans through its bites.

Environmental Factors

Warm temperatures, high humidity, and standing water provide ideal breeding grounds for these mosquitoes. Urbanization, poor sanitation, and inadequate water storage facilities contribute significantly to the spread of dengue fever.

Human Factors

Human activities, such as international travel and migration, play a role in spreading the virus. Infected individuals can carry the virus from endemic regions to non-endemic areas, leading to new outbreaks.

Dengue Symptoms

The symptoms of dengue fever typically appear 4 to 10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. They can range from mild to severe and often mimic those of other illnesses like the flu.

Common Symptoms

  • High Fever: Sudden onset of a high fever, often reaching up to 104°F (40°C).
  • Severe Headache: Intense pain behind the eyes.
  • Joint and Muscle Pain: Often described as feeling like "bones are breaking."
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Persistent nausea and occasional vomiting.
  • Rash: A skin rash that may appear a few days after the fever starts.

Less Common Symptoms

  • Mild Bleeding: Such as nosebleeds, gum bleeding, or easy bruising.
  • Fatigue: Extreme tiredness and weakness that can last for weeks after the initial infection.
Dengue Fever: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Warning Signs of Severe Dengue Fever

While most cases of dengue fever are mild, severe dengue, also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) or dengue shock syndrome (DSS), can be life-threatening. It’s important to recognize the warning signs of severe dengue:

  • Severe Abdominal Pain: Intense and continuous pain.
  • Persistent Vomiting: Frequent vomiting that doesn't stop.
  • Rapid Breathing: Fast or difficult breathing.
  • Bleeding Gums or Nose: More severe than the mild bleeding in common symptoms.
  • Fatigue and Restlessness: Sudden onset of extreme tiredness and restlessness.
  • Blood in Vomit or Stool: Indicating internal bleeding.

Why Platelets Decrease in Dengue Fever

One of the hallmark features of severe dengue is a significant drop in platelet count. Platelets are small blood cells that help with clotting. But why does this happen in dengue fever?

Immune System Response

When infected with the dengue virus, the body’s immune system activates and begins attacking the virus. This response can sometimes damage the platelets and bone marrow, where platelets are produced.

Virus-Platelet Interaction

The dengue virus can bind directly to platelets, causing their destruction. Additionally, the virus can damage the cells in the bone marrow, reducing platelet production.

Increased Platelet Destruction

The body's immune system might mistakenly target platelets as it fights the dengue virus, leading to their destruction faster than they can be produced.

Dengue Fever Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of contracting dengue fever:

  • Living or Traveling in Endemic Areas: Tropical and subtropical regions are hotbeds for dengue.
  • Previous Dengue Infection: A second infection with a different dengue virus serotype increases the risk of severe dengue.
  • Urban and Semi-Urban Areas: Higher population density and inadequate sanitation facilitate mosquito breeding.
  • Climate Conditions: Warm and humid climates support mosquito populations.

Dengue Fever Treatment

Currently, there is no specific antiviral treatment for dengue fever. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting the patient’s health.

Home Care

For mild dengue cases, home care includes:

  • Rest: Adequate rest to help the body fight the virus.
  • Hydration: Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Pain Relief: Paracetamol (acetaminophen) can help reduce fever and pain. Avoid aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, as they can increase the risk of bleeding.
Hospital Care

Severe dengue cases require hospitalization for intensive care and monitoring:

  • Intravenous (IV) Fluids: To maintain fluid balance and treat dehydration.
  • Blood Transfusions: In cases of severe bleeding or very low platelet count.
  • Monitoring: Regular monitoring of blood pressure, platelet count, and overall health.

Dengue Fever Prevention

Preventing dengue fever primarily involves controlling mosquito populations and avoiding mosquito bites.

Mosquito Control
  • Eliminate Standing Water: Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water. Regularly empty and clean containers that collect water.
  • Use Mosquito Repellents: Apply repellents on exposed skin and clothing.
  • Install Screens: Use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: Long-sleeved shirts and long pants can reduce the risk of bites.

There is a dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, which is approved in some countries for use in individuals who have had a previous dengue infection. It's not recommended for those who have never been infected, as it may increase the risk of severe dengue.

Dengue Fever: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Understanding dengue fever, from its causes and symptoms to its treatment and prevention, is vital in managing this global health issue. By taking preventive measures and recognizing the warning signs, we can protect ourselves and our communities from this potentially severe disease.