The dengue fever epidemic in Singapore is on the rise and does not appear to be slowing down – what with weekly infection cases being at an all-time high.
WORDS ANGEL DREWGUS
Suzy Neo did not even consider Dengue fever a threat till her three-year-old daughter, Julyn was infected. “We were playing at a park and only came home in the evening. She was restless throughout dinner, refused to play and was rather clingy. The fever started that night itself and spiked to 40◦C early in the morning. The whole experience was a nightmare. She was crying continuously complaining of pain everywhere. Luckily, we decided to bring her to the paediatrician immediately. He did a blood test and confirmed the diagnosis: Dengue fever,” shares the 29-year-old stay-at-home mum.
“Dengue is a mosquito-borne disease caused by any one of the four closely related dengue viruses DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3, or DENV 4. The female Aedes mosquito passes along the dengue virus from one infected person to another individual through its bites. Dengue can be fatal if unrecognised and not properly treated in a timely manner,” stresses Rafidah Abdul Razak, a corporate communications representative from the National Environment Agency (NEA).
Dengue fever has been endemic in Singapore since 1901 when the first local epidemic was reported. The disease also became a public health problem in the 1960s, shares NEA.
How do you know that you are down with dengue fever? “Fever, often with chills is the main symptom,” shares Dr Christian Harkensee, consultant, Division of Paediatric Infectious Diseases, National University Hospital.. In addition, many patients complain about intense headache and muscle pain in the back and the limbs, joint pain, a skin rash and eye pain. If you have a fever with two or more of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. Your doctor would then do a blood test that can confirm the diagnosis within a few hours.
“Many patients find symptomatic pain relief helpful, but drugs belonging to the group of the so called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, diclofenac, naproxen or mefenamic acid should be avoided because they could worsen the bleeding tendency that could come with dengue,” warns Dr Harkensee. Some people who have dengue feel quite drained, and full recovery may take up to a few weeks.
In the vast majority of cases dengue is a mild and uncomplicated illness. “Pregnant women, and young children below one year of age, may have a more severe illness than healthy adults, hence for them prevention of mosquito bites is particularly important,” emphasises Dr Harkensee.
A small percentage of patients, in particular those who were previously infected with another virus strain, can potentially develop a more serious illness called dengue haemorrhagic fever. “In this instance, the illness starts with fever, headache, muscle and joint pain. After two to three days, you may notice easy bruising, bleeding from gums when brushing teeth, a skin rash with non-blanching spots when pressed on, difficulty in breathing, swelling of the legs, vomiting of blood and blood stained or black-sticky bowel motions. If you notice such symptoms you should seek medical help immediately,” advises Dr Harkensee.