September 9th, 2010
06:00 AM ET
As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.
From: Rob, Bellport, New York
"Dengue fever in Florida, in a high tourist area. So how did that get here?"
Rob, thanks for your question. CNN has reported that cases of dengue fever have been reported this year in Florida, including several among Key West residents.
The simple answer to how dengue fever got to the United States is “mosquitoes.” Dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes infected with one of four dengue viruses. A mosquito becomes infected when it bites a human who is infected with the virus, and then the mosquito spreads the virus to other uninfected humans when it bites them. Dengue cannot be spread from human to human, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People infected with dengue fever experience a high fever, severe headaches, along with pain behind the eyes, in the joints, muscles and bones, a rash, and they can experience mild bleeding of the nose, gums, and easy bruising. Younger children and those with their first dengue infection tend to get a milder version of the illness compared with older children and adults.
A more severe form of the virus is called dengue hemorrhagic fever. It’s caused by the same virus as dengue fever but DHF can be fatal if it’s not identified and treated properly and quickly. In addition to the fever and pain symptoms of dengue fever, patients will experience vomiting, abdominal pain, and sometimes difficulty breathing after their fever subsides. The victim then experiences a 24- to 48-hour period where the blood vessels become “leaky,” which can lead to circulatory failure and can cause death if not treated quickly.
There’s no specific medicine or treatment for dengue fever or DHF but patients should use acetaminophen-containing pain relievers, and avoid aspirin, which can increase the risk of bleeding. Rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and consulting a medical professional is also advised. If vomiting or abdominal pain develops after the fever subsides, the CDC advises that people should go immediately to the hospital for evaluation. Fluid replacement therapy benefits patients with DHF, and hospitalization is often required for treatment.
Many scientists believe that global warming is increasing subtropical weather patterns, raising public health concerns about diseases transmitted by mosquitoes – such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and several kinds of encephalitis, according to an article by Dr. Paul R. Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. “Mosquito-borne disorders are projected
Fighting mosquitoes is the best way to prevent dengue fever. When I was recently in Pakistan covering their flooding disaster, we were very careful to use mosquito repellents and to cover our arms and legs to prevent exposing skin to biting insects. It’s important to use a product that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET as the active ingredient. Wearing long-sleeved clothing and pants can also decrease your exposure to mosquito bites. Running air conditioning, and using screens in windows and doors can help prevent mosquitoes from coming indoors.
Mosquitoes breed by laying eggs in water, so it’s important to eliminate outdoor sources of standing water, including pet water dishes and flower pots.
While dengue fever is fairly unusual in the continental United States, you might be surprised to learn that as many as 100 million people are infected globally each year, according to the CDC. Dengue is most common in tropical and subtropical regions, including popular tourist destinations including Puerto Rico, Latin America and Southeast Asia, so remember your mosquito protection when you travel to those areas.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.