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Dengue Fever

Alternative names: breakbone fever

Type of infection: viral

Incubation period: 4 to 7 days

Mortality rate: 1% to 5%

Vector: mosquitoes (specifically the aedes aegypti species)


Originally called "breakbone fever", dengue fever was first described by modern medicine in 1789 though it is likely that the disease was known in ancient China long before that.

In 2014, there was an unusual outbreak of dengue fever in southern China, with more than 20,000 recent infections. At the time that this book was written, this was still an active outbreak with more than 1,000 new cases being discovered daily. Also during 2014, there was another outbreak of dengue in Japan. They had 150 cases of it, where there had been no such infection for more than 50 years.  

Catching Dengue Fever

You cannot catch dengue from someone who is sick, but it can spread within a group if mosquitoes are not controlled. Once a person is ill, any mosquitoes that bite them will carry the disease to the next person.

To be clear, the Aedes aegypti mosquito is not found in northern areas and is very uncommon throughout Europe, Canada or most of the United States. You can find out more about this species in the section on insect vectors, earlier in this book.

Signs & Symptoms

The first symptoms of dengue fever include high fever, severe headaches and eye pain. There can also be joint and muscle pain over your entire body. Bleeding from the nose and eyes is another initial symptom, along with a rash. After a few days, the fever will naturally lower on its own but that does not mean the disease is easing. Vomiting, further bleeding, breathing difficulties and very black feces are the symptoms that start developing.

Though the symptoms are quite severe, they usually only last for a week to 10 days and it is not often fatal. If not overcome, dengue fever can worsen to dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) where the bleeding is much worse, and becomes a potentially fatal symptom.


There is no treatment for dengue fever infection other than treating the symptoms with pain killers (acetaminophen is preferable to ibuprofen or aspirin) and keeping the patient well-hydrated.


There are no vaccines for dengue, and the main preventative measure it to avoid mosquito bites. Long sleeves and pants, along with mosquito repellant are very important when you are outdoors. Window screens or netting in the house can prevent night-time bites as well.

Risk Assessment

It is a fairly common disease in southeast Asia and Africa, and more than 40 million people are infected world-wide every year. Though relatively new in this part of the world, there are now regular cases of dengue fever all throughout South America and Mexico, which can lead to further spread in the southern USA (particularly if the climate alters enough to increase the Aedes aegypti mosquito populations to the north). Southern Texas did see a small outbreak of dengue in 2005, for example.

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