Unfortunately, since Puerto Rico is in the tropics, Dengue fever is a real threat here. Fortunately though, because the doctors and the general public are so aware of this problem, it is rarely fatal and adequate care is usually taken. I recently was a victim of Dengue fever, and even before I knew what I had, I felt so miserable that I honestly thought I was going to die, it was that bad, I will give you and overview of what happened to me and what I did to care for myself and my family.
Dengue fever is not transmitted from person to person but it is transmitted via mosquitoes, so if you are infected with the Dengue and a mosquito bites you, then that mosquito bites someone else not infected with the virus, that person now has the virus, it has an average incubation period of 3 days but incubation can take up as much as 10 days. The symptoms are similar to the flu but interestingly (at least for me) one symptom came at a time, so one day I had one thing then that went away and I got another symptom, so it was like I was sick with a different symptom for about 2 weeks.
Apparently I had the “weak” Dengue virus, as I did not have to be hospitalized. I’ve heard there are at least 4 strands of this Dengue fever, the worst one (and sometimes fatal) is the Hemorrhagic Dengue. Whatever you think you have, I strongly suggest that you go get tested for possible dengue if you feel like you have flu-like symptoms, this is not a disease to take lightly, it can get a turn for the worst very quickly.
Oh one thing before I start, DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING OTHER THAN ACETAMINOPHEN! This means NO IBUPROFEN, and NO ASPIRIN!
Overview of symptoms: (the ones that I had)
-Mild fever (up to 102) for 2-3 days.
-Overall pain everywhere, everything hurt, it hurt to walk, stand, sit, even lay down. (3 days)
-Always tired and weak, it didn’t matter if I slept a full 8 hours, I felt I needed to sleep even more, the worst part was that sometimes I was in so much physical pain that I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to cry I was in so much pain but I didn’t even have the energy for that.
-Dry nasal congestion (3 days). This was weird because I couldn’t breathe through my nose very well but I wasn’t dripping through my nose or anything, it was like if my nasal passages were just closing up.
-Horrific Headache (5 days), this was probably the most annoying of all symptoms because it actually overlapped with the others. I had a headache at the same time I was in pain everywhere and I was tired, the headache felt like a tension headache at first, hurting on the back of the head as well as in the temples, then it just moved to just the back of the head. For some reason it was worse when I bent over to pick things up from the floor or even to sit down. The only thing that helped was to exhale through the mouth quickly when bending over, why? I don’t know but it worked. It also didn’t help that my sinuses felt closed. But it was truly a really bad headache, almost as bad as the migraines I get.
-Sore throat and allergy symptoms. This is where I am at right now, after most of the headache went away, I got a really bad sore throat and couldn’t stop sneezing, also started dripping from my nose, this type of symptom was a bit more familiar since it felt like I had the common cold, this has been going on for 3 days now.
-Rash. Although I never got this, some people develop a rash in various places, this usually happens towards the end of the symptoms.
-My platelets went down as low as 100 and my white blood cell count went down to 1.6, these are pretty low values, so I had no defenses against any other disease with such a low white blood cell count, I had to be safe and stay in bed.
If you think you have Dengue:
If you are suspicious you have Dengue or if you go to the ER because you don’t feel very good, the doctor will order a CBC for you. In this CBC the doctor will look at your platelets, white blood cell count, hematocrit and hemoglobin. The key is to watch how low do your platelets and white blood cells go and try to keep the hemoglobin and hematocrit within normal range but not to go up too much as this means that the density is high and you are not getting enough hydration. You need LOTS of fluids, your urine should be clear.
The main thing I had to watch out for was to keep hydrated and rest. Bed rest was the order and drink lots and lots of water and sports drinks, also read I should eat “red foods”, I chose pomegranates since I love them and they are still in season =)
24-48 hours blood tests. Your doctor may prescribe frequent blood tests to see the progression of you platelets, white blood cells, hematocrit and hemoglobin. If your hematocrit and hemoglobin start to get high you may have to got get an IV since you may not be getting adequate hydration and closer monitoring at a hospital or from your primary care provider may be necessary.
What to watch out for:
My doctor told me that if my fever returns and it gets pretty high, if I start bleeding through my gums, or if I see blood in urine or stool I have to seek medical attention immediately! This could be hemorrhagic Dengue and you HAVE to go to the hospital.
So there it is, I hope you never get Dengue while you are here since it is truly an awful disease. Don’t take it lightly and go get checked if you start to get sick. Let me know if you have any questions!