7 common dengue fever symptoms

7 Common Dengue Fever Symptom and Signs

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Reviewed by: Dr. Qanissa Afianti Razzqy
Published: Mar 30, 2021
Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Dengue fever symptom can be mistaken for other infections since some of its signs can be commonly found in other types of illnesses. And this is why it’s important to learn how to spot if you or your loved one has been infected by dengue.

Dengue is an ever-present risk in tropical countries like Singapore. Though people are most at risk of contracting dengue during the rainy season (September to February), many infections still happen all year-round.

Cases of dengue have also risen in recent years, with the largest outbreak in Singaporean history in 2020 that saw 35,315 people infected and 29 deaths. The previous high happened back in 2013 with 22,170 infections, while the highest recorded death toll was 25 in 2005.

It’s important to know that there is no specific medicine for dengue. Instead, healthcare providers can only treat the symptoms.

Due to the nature of its symptoms, dengue infections can easily be mistaken with other illnesses such as the common flu, which can be dangerous. Most people recover from dengue, however, if left untreated, the patient’s condition can worsen and in severe cases may lead to death.

To prevent this from happening, it will be helpful for you to be aware of common signs that you or someone you know may be infected with dengue. Let’s go through it now.

What is the First Sign of Dengue Fever

The most common sign of dengue infection is high fever (40 C) accompanied by severe headache and/or body aches. The fever usually lasts approximately 3-5 days.

Some cases may only show a few symptoms, while others are asymptomatic. If this first sign of dengue happens to you, it might be a good idea to get in touch with a doctor to run a proper diagnosis.

Common Symptoms of Dengue Fever

If you are bitten by an infected mosquito, symptoms will start to show 4 to 10 days later. Though there are also many cases where people who are infected don’t display any signs or symptoms.

Dengue infection causes a high fever of up to 40 C. A confirmed diagnosis will usually be a combination of high fever and at least two of these signs and symptoms:

1. Headache

High fever of 40 degrees celsius is the most common dengue fever symptom

Headaches caused by dengue can often be debilitating. It can be very intense and cause throbbing pain in the bilateral, frontal and retro-orbital parts of the head. A study has shown that headache in dengue fever may last up to 8 days.

However, an intense headache doesn’t usually correlate with the severity of the dengue infection. A 2006 study showed that “patients with classic dengue fever had a more intense headache than those with the more severe form of the disease, dengue haemorrhagic fever.”

2. Pain behind the eyes

Pain behind the eyes and headaches due to dengue fever symptom
Source: thinkbetterlife.com

Retro-orbital headache, or in layman terms, a headache that is accompanied by pain behind the eyes, is another classic sign that you may have dengue fever. 

3. Nausea

Nausea is also related to the throbbing frontal and retro-orbital headaches caused by dengue infection. This symptom is usually accompanied by a severe loss of appetite.

4. Vomiting

Dengue often causes persistent vomiting. If this continues, and you are vomiting fluids, it may be a sign that the infection is worsening.

5. Muscle, bone or joint aches

Joint pain is a common dengue fever symptom

You may not necessarily have all three at the same time, as any one of these – muscle, bone or joint pain – will be sufficient to add to your list of dengue fever symptoms. The most common pain is abdominal pain, which will be quite different from the average needle piercing pain of hunger pangs. Among the three, joint pain is also another common sign.

6. Skin rash

Having rashes can be subjective (e.g. due to eczema, hot weather, etc), but they may not be if it’s accompanied by fever and headache – a classic “dengue triad” sign. Dengue related rashes often break out on the face, chest, and flexor surfaces – skin on the side of a joint that folds (e.g. elbows and knees).

7. Swollen lymph nodes

This symptom is not as common as the other six listed in this article but may happen in some cases. The most common locations in the body where swellings happen are the cervical, epitrochlear, and inguinal lymph nodes. In other words, your neck, elbows and pelvic area.

Now that you’ve gone through these common dengue fever symptoms and signs, you should also know that they typically last between 2-7 days. In most cases, people who are infected will make a full recovery after about 1 week.

Quick Facts

1 in 4 people infected with dengue will get sick

Dengue fever symptom can be mild or severe

Severe dengue – called dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) – can be life-threatening

Though being aware of its symptoms is important, understanding how the infection progresses can go a long way to recover well and seek immediate medical help for severe cases.

Dengue Warning Signs and Progression

If left untreated, the infection may worsen and become life-threatening. To help you be better prepared and avoid a potentially fatal situation, here is how dengue infection progresses

Source: gov.sg

Phase 1: High fever

The first sign of dengue infection is a high fever (40 C) lasting about 3-5 days. It will usually be accompanied by severe headaches and body aches.

Phase 2: Critical period

The critical period comes in the second phase. This is where it becomes extremely important to monitor your body and symptoms.

Look out if your body temperature decreases and drops below 38 C that stretches up to 48 hours. During this time, your body may be going through changes:

  • Fluid may accumulate in your lungs or abdominal cavity
  • Fluctuation in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Potential damage to kidney and liver (if heart rate and blood pressure drops to dangerously low levels)

Other warning signs that the dengue infection is getting worse will include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Persistent vomiting, even with just fluids
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Bleeding tendencies, such as blood in your vomit, bleeding from your nose or gums, and easy bruising
  • Black and sticky stools

Phase 3: Recovery

Once you have gone through the critical phase, the period of recovery begins. Though you will start getting and feeling better, beware that during this period, fluids that have shifted out of circulation during the critical phase will return to circulation. In occasional cases, this can lead to fluid overload.

What to Do If You Have a Dengue Fever Symptom

If you suspect you have any of the common dengue fever symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Based on your symptoms, the doctor will evaluate if further investigations, such as blood tests, are needed.

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