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 fever is most common in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific islands, but the disease has been increasing rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Researchers are working on dengue fever vaccines, but the best prevention for now is to reduce mosquito habitat in areas where dengue fever is common.
Many people, especially children and teens, may experience no signs or symptoms during a mild case of dengue fever. When symptoms do occur, they usually begin four to 10 days after the person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever most commonly include:
You might also experience:
Most people recover within a week or so. In some cases, however, symptoms worsen and can become life-threatening. Blood vessels often become damaged and leaky, and the number of clot-forming cells in your bloodstream falls. This can cause:
When to see a doctor
Dengue fever is caused by any one of four dengue viruses spread by mosquitoes that thrive in and near human lodgings. When a mosquito bites a person infected with a dengue virus, the virus enters the mosquito. When the infected mosquito then bites another person, the virus enters that person's bloodstream.
After you've recovered from dengue fever, you have immunity to the virus that infected you — but not to the other three dengue fever viruses. The risk of developing severe dengue fever, also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, actually increases if you're infected a second, third or fourth time.
Factors that put you at greater risk of developing dengue fever or a more severe form of the disease include:
If severe, dengue fever can damage the lungs, liver or heart. Blood pressure can drop to dangerous levels, causing shock and, in some cases, death.
Preparing for your appointment
You'll likely start by seeing your family doctor or primary care provider. But in some cases, when you call to set up an appointment, you might be referred instead to a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
For dengue fever, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask for further explanation if you're confused.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Diagnosing dengue fever can be difficult, because its signs and symptoms can be easily confused with those of other diseases — such as malaria, leptospirosis and typhoid fever.
Your doctor will likely ask about your medical and travel history. Be sure to describe international trips in detail, including the countries you visited and the dates, as well as any contact you may have had with mosquitoes.
Certain laboratory tests can detect evidence of the dengue viruses, but test results usually come back too late to help direct treatment decisions.
Treatments and drugs
No specific treatment for dengue fever exists. Your doctor may recommend that you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration from vomiting and high fever. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can alleviate pain and reduce fever. Avoid pain relievers that can increase bleeding complications — such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, others).
If you have severe dengue fever, you may need:
A dengue fever vaccine is in development, but isn't generally available. If you're living or traveling in an area where dengue fever is known to be, the best way to avoid dengue fever is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes that carry the disease.
If you are living or traveling in tropical areas where dengue fever is common, these tips may help reduce your risk of mosquito bites:
Last Updated: 2011-09-30
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