Places You Might Visit That Have Dengue Fever
And how to protect yourself from this serious mosquito-borne disease
You’re headed for a tropical vacation spot this winter, or maybe you have your eye on Hawaii. Aside from checking whether it’s safe to drink the water at your destination, you’ll also want to learn a couple of things about the local mosquitoes — namely, whether or not they carry chikungunya or dengue fever.
Previously occurring mainly in developing nations, dengue fever —nicknamed “breakbone fever” for the agonizing limb pains it can cause — recently cropped up in Hawaii.
Symptoms of this severe, flu-like illness include a high fever, headache, nausea, swollen glands or rashes and muscle, joint and even eye pain that lasts a week or more, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Unlike some other tropical disease, it is rarely fatal.
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“You don’t die from it, but you wish you could,” said dengue fever expert Duane Gubler of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, who has had the illness three times, in the journal Nature. In a small percentage of cases, especially in infants, the disease can cause dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal if not treated in its early stages, according to the WHO.
Dengue fever is endemic in Puerto Rico and in many popular tourist destinations in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Big Island of Hawaii experienced an outbreak from September to early November 2015. "Dengue is not endemic to Hawaii," health department officials wrote in a news release." However, it is intermittently imported from endemic areas by infected travelers."
This was the first cluster of “locally acquired dengue fever” since a 2011 outbreak on Oahu, the news release added. Of the 15 Hawaiians and 8 tourists stricken by the disease, all are recovering, officials said.
Imported cases have also been reported in about a dozen countries in Europe, officials report.
Whether you’re traveling to Mexico, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or somewhere else warm, check with the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory.
As the WHO reports, “explosive outbreaks” of dengue fever are occurring around the word. Costa Rica, Mexico and Honduras have had dengue outbreaks (nearly 29,000 cases were reported in Honduras in 2014), as has the Madeira island of Portugal, where more than 2,000 cases were reported in 2012.
The WHO notes that since 2014, the following countries have also reported increases in the disease: Singapore, the People’s Republic of China, Fiji, Malaysia, Vanuatu, Japan (after a lapse of 70 years) and Brazil. Singapore and the Pacific Island countries of Tonga and French Polynesia also continue to report cases.
Unlike some other mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, there is no preventive medicine or vaccine to take for dengue fever, and no medication designed to treat the disease, according to the CDC.
Here are steps you should take to help prevent an infection, courtesy of the CDC.
- Use DEET insect during the day and at night, indoors or outdoors.
- Wear long sleeved shirts and pants for additional protection.
- Make sure your windows and doors have screens without holes.
- Unless you have good screens, close windows and doors and use air conditioning if available.
- Regularly empty and clean pet water bowls and vases with flowers. If you see water storage barrels, make sure they’re covered.
- If someone in your accommodations is ill with dengue, sleep under mosquito netting. (Dengue is spread only by mosquitoes, not by direct contact with anyone who’s ill.)
The Hawaii District Health Office offers similar advice to tourists and residents, adding that you may want to limit your time in campsites and in heavy vegetation on the island.
The same steps will help you avoid chikungunya, another mosquito-borne virus. According to the CDC, outbreaks have hit countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as islands in the Caribbean. Check out this map of places chikungunya has occurred.