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Dengue fever

3-minute read

Dengue fever is an illness that is similar to a serious case of the flu. It is caused by a virus carried by mosquitoes.

Most people who have dengue fever recover in about a week. Sometimes, the infection is more serious and occasionally it is fatal.

You can catch dengue fever if you are bitten by an infected mosquito. Dengue is found in tropical and sub-tropical countries in Africa, Asia and South America. Most areas of Australia do not have the type of mosquitoes that carry dengue, although outbreaks of the disease still occur in North Queensland every year when someone becomes infected overseas, then is bitten by a mosquito in Australia and that mosquito spreads the virus to others.

Illustration of the world map with risk areas for dengue fever.
Dengue is found in tropical and sub-tropical countries in Africa, Asia and South America. In Australia, the outbreak of the disease still occurs in North Queensland every year.

Dengue fever symptoms

Dengue is transmitted only by mosquitoes; it is not transmitted directly from person to person.

If you have dengue fever, you may have:

These symptoms may be mild or severe. They usually appear between 3 and 14 days after the mosquito bite, and usually last for between 2 and 7 days.

There is no vaccine or any specific medicine to treat dengue. People who have dengue fever should rest, drink plenty of fluids and reduce the fever using paracetamol or they should see a doctor.

Severe dengue fever symptoms

Severe dengue (also known as dengue haemorrhagic fever) is a potentially lethal complication, affecting mainly children. Diagnosing it early and being treated by trained doctors and nurses increases survival.

Some people can get severe dengue fever if they have had dengue fever before.

People with severe dengue feel very unwell and have extra symptoms such as:

  • bruising to only minor bumps
  • nose bleeds and bleeding gums
  • stomach pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • persistent vomiting or poo with blood in it
  • confusion
  • restlessness
  • cold, clammy skin

This is a serious illness and it can be fatal. If you think you may have dengue fever, visit your doctor or hospital emergency department.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will assess you by talking to you and examining you. They may order blood tests to help diagnose dengue fever.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for dengue fever. But you can ease the symptoms by resting, drinking plenty of fluids and taking painkillers such as paracetamol.

If you have dengue fever, do not take medicines such as aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. These can worsen bleeding.

Prevention

There is no vaccine to prevent dengue fever. The best way to prevent it is to avoid being bitten by mosquitos. If someone in your house has dengue, it is especially important to avoid mosquito bites as mosquitoes can carry the infection from one person to another.

How to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Stay inside during mornings and evenings when mosquitos are active.
  • Use air-conditioning and window screens; use mosquito nets in the bedroom.
  • Wear long-sleeved clothes and covered shoes.
  • Use a mosquito repellent that contains DEET or picaridin.
  • Regularly check and drain any still water around your home. Mosquitos breed in still water, for example, water in empty containers.

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Last reviewed: January 2019


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