Dengue fever is a threat to people in more than 100 countries. It is a flu-like disease that produces a high fever, pain in the eyes and joint aches that can last a week.
Dr. Renu Daval-Drager of the World Health Organization says some cases of what is sometimes called "break bone fever" can be fatal.
There is no vaccine to prevent dengue and no specific medicine to treat it, so the only defense is eradication of the mosquitoes that carry it and measures to protect people from mosquito bites.
But hope is offered by research being carried out at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, which relies on very special mice. By infecting these humanized mice with strains of the dengue virus, investigators can study how the disease takes hold and what factors might cause the more serious and often deadly dengue hemorrhagic fever.
Imagine a flu-like illness that causes you to feel as though all of your bones are broken. You have a high fever, a crushing headache, severe pain behind your eyes, a rash, and excruciating pain in your joints and spine.
What I am describing is called dengue fever (DF), and it can be fatal.
The word “dengue” is thought to come from the Swahili phrase “Ka-dinga pepo,” meaning a cramplike disease caused by an evil spirit. In Spanish, “dengue” means fastidious or careful -- which is exactly how you would appear if you were suffering from this bone-crushing malady.
This little-known infectious disease used to be restricted to tropical areas since it is spread by infected mosquitoes. However, it has recently made its way into Texas, Florida and other southern states, and has reached epidemic levels in Central America.
Fifty-five percent of the world population, or 3.6 billion people, are now at risk for dengue according to the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative (PDVI). And it’s endemic in 124 countries.
As the number of widely publicized H1N1 flu (swine flu) cases climbs in the Western Pacific Region, dengue is having a serious but under-recognized impact that you’ve likely heard nothing about.
Dengue Fever Is More Widespread Globally Than Influenza!
Worldwide, there are about three to five million cases of influenza annually. However, there are now about 100 million cases of dengue fever annually, worldwide -- twenty times more cases than influenza!
Making the statistics even more remarkable, dengue fever is one of the most underdiagnosed diseases in the world, and influenza death rates are grossly exaggerated in order to maximize vaccine profits.
The CDC likes to advertise that there were 36,000 deaths in the US from the seasonal flu in 2006. However, if you go to the actual flu table and look at the death statistics, 849 people died from the flu in 2006. The remainder died from pneumonia.
Complicating matters further, global influenza death estimates are based on mathematical formulas, not actual headcounts. The CDC itself admits it doesn’t really know how many people die from the flu since most people die from complications of the flu, like pneumonia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates several hundred thousand cases of DHF annually. The fatality rate is about 5 percent, and in 2007, that amounted to 21,000 deaths -- and rates are increasing every year.
The CDC reports between 100 and 200 suspected cases of DF are introduced into the US each year by travelers abroad. Many more of these cases go unreported.
The last reported dengue epidemic in the US was in the early to mid 1900s. There have been several indiginous outbreaks in Texas and Hawaii:
Texas: 61 cases between 1980 and 1999; 25 cases in 2005 (the most recent year reported)
Hawaii: One dengue outbreak involving 122 cases during 2001-2002
The CDC cites a 50-fold increase in reported cases of DHF in the Americas (1989-1993 compared to 1984-1988), translating to potential trouble ahead for the US.
The CDC lists the following societal reasons for the expansion of dengue into the Americas:
Extensive mosquito infestation, with declining mosquito control
Unreliable water supply systems
Increasing non-biodegradable containers and poor solid waste disposal
Increasing air travel
Increasing population density in expanding urban areas
I would add to this list declining nutritional status and suppressed immune function from 21st-century lifestyle trends.
Transmission and Symptoms of Dengue Fever and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever
The severe pain associated with the disease explains the other rather terrifying names it’s known by: “break-bone fever” and “bonecrusher disease.”
Dengue fever is caused by one of four closely related viruses of the genus Flavivirus (DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3, and DEN-4).
Transmission of dengue begins when a mosquito becomes infected with one of the dengue viruses from biting a person who is infected. After about a week, it can transmit the virus by biting a healthy person. An infected person can be a source of dengue virus for other mosquitoes for about 6 days from the day he/she was infected.
The disease cannot be spread through the air from person to person. However, it can be spread by exposure to an infected person’s blood, in the same way that HIV or Hepatitis B is spread.
Unlike the mosquitoes that transmit malaria, dengue mosquitoes bite during the day.
Symptoms of dengue fever are similar to influenza:
Nausea and vomiting
Rash (3-4 days after the fever begins)
An infected person begins having symptoms in 4-6 days, and the illness lasts 3-14 days, although full recovery can take a month.
In 1-2 percent of cases, dengue fever turns into a more severe form called dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF). This form is characterized by a fever that lasts from 2 to 7 days and, in addition to the common DF symptoms, is accompanied by:
Bruising easily or other skin hemorrhages
Bleeding nose or gums
Possible internal bleeding
Less frequent urination
In DHF, the smallest blood vessels (capillaries) become excessively permeable, which allows fluid to “leak out” of your blood vessels. This can lead to failure of your circulatory system and shock, followed by death if medical intervention is not immediately provided.
However, with good medical management, mortality due to DHF is as low as 1-5 percent. Most fatalities occur among children and young adults.
The ability to differentiate between dengue and influenza is crucial because dengue can progress into the more deadly hemorrhagic form.
A simple blood test is all that is needed to confirm a dengue diagnosis.
Where Do Outbreaks Occur?
Outbreaks of dengue occur primarily in areas where Aedes aegypti and sometimes Aedes albopictus mosquitoes live and breed. This includes most tropical areas of the world -- the same places where you would find malaria.
Dengue virus is also spread by travelers who have become infected while visiting dengue-infested regions. In the Americas, all four dengue virus types are now present.
After being absent for almost 20 years, in 1994, DEN-3 reappeared into Central America. It is now found in several countries in the region and is spreading rapidly. This is due to the fact that this population has a low level of immunity to this strain because it was absent for two decades.
In the Eastern Pacific Region, the current dengue season seems to have started early this year and has the potential to be the most serious in years, according to the WHO.
For more about dengue history and epidemiology, there is a comprehensive article in Trends in Microbiology, February 2002.
Preventing a Dengue Epidemic
According to the CDC, the best means for preventing the spread of dengue involves “sustainable, community-based, integrated mosquito control, with limited reliance on chemical insecticides.” By eliminating as many sources of standing water as possible, you’ll be eliminating mosquito eggs and larvae.
Items that collect rainwater or are used to store water, such as plastic containers, drums, buckets, or used automobile tires, should be covered or properly discarded since they are mosquito breeding grounds. Animal water dishes, birdbaths, and flowerpots should be emptied and cleaned at least once a week.
In order to minimize your chances for mosquito bites, you can do the following:
Make sure windows and doors are screened
Use bed nets when sleeping in a tropical zone
Wear a safe mosquito repellent, and stay away from DEET. Look for one with essential oils such as cinnamon oil, neem, and catnip, which are every bit as effective as DEET against mosquitoes but have none of the toxicity
When outdoors during times when mosquitoes are biting, wear long-sleeved shirts, hats and long pants tucked into socks
You might be wondering why I have not yet brought up the v-word: vaccine.
No, there isn’t one for dengue ... yet.
But there are five candidate vaccines in the works, and it’s just a matter of time before the hounds of Big Pharma come to the “rescue,” pushing a dengue vaccine that professes to be the dengue pandemic panacea. One vaccine is scheduled for release around 2012 or 2013, and clinical trials are already underway.
But buyers beware -- it is unlikely that this vaccine will be without its side effects, as are all of the other vaccines to date. You are far better off beefing up your immunity using diet and lifestyle modification.
Treatments for Dengue Fever and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever
There is no specific conventional treatment or medication for a dengue infection. Antiviral medications like the ones used for the flu have been found to have marginal value and come with a host of negative side effects.
Your best option is treating it as you would the flu -- and indeed you might think that’s what you have -- with supportive measures such as rest and hydration and some of the measures that I have recommended for the swine flu.
Here are a few of the approaches. As with any viral infection, I recommend trying the following measures:
Make sure you are getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure or a supplement; vitamin D is a potent antiviral and a major player in your immune function
Try homeopathy, which has been shown to be very effective for flu. (Since this is not my area of expertise, you should consult a care provider who has homeopathy expertise)
Zinc lozenges: suck on a quarter lozenge every 30 minutes. If this makes you nauseated, stop immediately since this suggests zinc toxicity
Use a few drops of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide in your ears. Refer to my article about hydrogen peroxide for more specifics on this protocol, which has been very effective for viral infections
Use Meridian Tapping Techniques -- it has even thwarted the common cold! MTT can be an effective measure for pain relief as well and will reduce or eliminate your need for analgesics
If you do need a pain reliever, use acetaminophen instead of aspirin due to the potential for adding to the hemorrhagic (bleeding) complications of dengue.
If you suspect dengue hemorrhagic fever, you should consult a physician. If a diagnosis of DHF is made early, it can be effectively treated with fluid replacement therapy. Often, hospitalization is required.
Your Best Dengue Defense
Building a strong immune system is your best defense against this nasty virus, just as it is against any other infectious disease. My tips for how to do this should come as no surprise to you by now:
Eat right for your nutritional type, and avoid sugar
As discussed earlier, get plenty of vitamin D
Eat garlic regularly
Take a high-quality krill oil daily
Get enough sleep
Address your sources of stress (MTT is a great tool for this)
Wash your hands regularly (but not excessively)