Dengue fever: How to protect yourself

The recent news of Channel 3 actor Thrisadee "Por" Sahawong being in a coma for a week due to dengue fever has sparked a public scare about the tropical illness, mostly overlooked by people in Thailand until now.

The 37-year-old was sent to Ramathibodi Hospital last Monday and required resuscitation multiple times during the course of the week.

While his life hangs by a thread, the public has started to ask how life-threatening dengue fever actually is and if the mosquito-borne viral infection is preventable.

First of all, the fatality rate is very low. Only small minority of cases involve severe complications.

This year there have been 107,500 Thais infected with the dengue virus. Of this number, 106 died, which accounts for around 0.1% of those affected.

Thailand has seen a sharp increase in the number of dengue cases. In 2014, only an estimated 40,000 people caught the disease, 41 of whom died from it.

DENGUE: THE FACTS

For better understanding, here are nine important facts and figures on dengue fever in Thailand and globally.

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN OR IF I HAVE DENGUE?

- It is difficult to differentiate between dengue and other types of fever like influenza.

In the early stages of infection, dengue fever and flu have similar symptoms, but there are certain things to look for.

Common cold and influenza usually involve coughing, a runny nose and sore throat, and these symptoms are not present in most cases of dengue. People infected with the dengue virus will develop a fever higher than if they had the common cold or flu, usually around 39-40C. They will also have muscle and bone pain. A rash of red bumps might not help in differentiating because all virus-causing infections are likely to lead to a rash. A laboratory test is the best way to make sure if patients are infected with the virus.

WHEN DO PEOPLE GET SICK WITH DENGUE?

- Dengue is mostly contagious during the monsoons

Dengue fever started spreading in Thailand more than 50 years ago. In the past, the pattern of the outbreak was predictable -- like once every two years. But because the global climate has become unpredictable, it affects medical practitioners' ability to forecast the epidemic pattern.

In Thailand, for example, sometimes it doesn't rain when it's supposed to or sometimes it rains out of the rainy season. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

MOSQUITOES TRANSMIT DENGUE TO HUMANS

- Dengue virus is not transmitted from person to person

The mosquito Aedes aegypti is responsible for transmitting the dengue virus to humans. The virus is not transmittable from person to person. Therefore, people suffering from the disease should not be considered contagious.

There are four dengue virus subtypes -- dengue virus 1, 2, 3 and 4. Thrisadee is infected with the second strain of the virus.

WHO IS AT RISK?

- About half of the world's population is at risk

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades. Approximately 500,000 people with acute dengue require hospitalisation each year, a majority of who are children. About 2.5% of those affected die.

Dengue fever was first recognised in the 1950s during dengue epidemics in the Philippines and Thailand.

A severe form of dengue can lead to serious complications and death, especially among children in some Asian and Latin American countries. People in urban and rural areas have equal risks of being infected.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BODY?

- The patient's immune system worsens the disease

When a patient is infected with the dengue virus, the body produces immunity to fight against the sickness.

But an overreaction of the body's immune system is itself harmful, causing a low platelet count and subsequently internal bleeding, liver damage and blood vessel leakage in severe cases.

Dengue shock is likely to occur as a result of severe dehydration and is associated with high mortality.

There is no need to panic because this is not to say that every dengue fever patient will suffer severe complications. If you develop a high fever and suspect that you might be infected, early treatment is advised.

WHAT NOT TO DO

- Taking paracetamol or painkillers prior to a doctor visit is dangerous.

Aspirin and Ibuprofen reduce the function of platelets, which can lead to internal bleeding. The virus attacks the liver so taking too much medication such as two paracetamol to cool down the body temperature could worsen physical conditions.

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