What you need to know about dengue, the deadly disease emerging in Arizona
Arizona resident recently contracted the mosquito-borne disease known as dengue, and the dengue virus was detected in mosquitoes in the area. Dengue, usually associated with tropical countries, may be spreading in Arizona for the first time.
This isn’t the first time dengue has appeared in the United States, but we don’t usually have local transmission of the disease in the 48 contiguous states. Florida had at least three local dengue cases this yearand has had several local outbreaks in recent years, the largest being 66 cases in 2010 (prior to 2009, no cases since 1934, outbreak news today reports.) Dengue is common in several US territories, including Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands.
So how big a deal is dengue and what should you know about it? Let’s look at the facts.
What a bad denme?
About 75% of people who are infected with dengue will not have noticeable symptoms. Statistically25% will get sick, 5% will get severe dengue and 0.01% will die from it.
It’s worth noting that you’re more likely to get severe dengue if you’ve had dengue before. There are four types of dengue virus, so in theory you can get it four times in your life. But if you’ve had one type and then get another, that second infection carries a higher risk of turning into severe dengue than the first.
Symptoms of a common dengue infection may include nausea, vomiting, rash, or muscle or joint pain. There may be a feeling of pain behind the eyes. The disease usually lasts between two and seven days. During that time, the CDC says, you should rest and can take acetaminophen (Tylenol), but not aspirin or ibuprofen.
Symptoms of severe dengue fever may include abdominal pain or tenderness, bleeding from the nose or gums, blood in vomit or stool, vomiting more than three times in 24 hours, or feeling unusually tired or irritable. If you have these signs, seek medical attention immediately.
How does dengue spread?
Dengue is caused by a virus, and that virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. However, not all mosquitoes can transmit it. It requires Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. These mosquitoes bite day and night, and can breed in small containers of standing water. Both types are more common in the southern US than in the northern areas.
(The small brown mosquitoes that live in more northern areas and bite more often at night are Culex mosquitoes, which do not transmit dengue. They can transmit West Nile virusthough.)
For a mosquito to give you dengue, it would have to bite someone who has dengue and then bite you. If this happens in a certain area, it is considered local transmission of dengue fever. People can contract dengue while traveling and then bring it home, which accounts for most dengue cases in the continental US.
How to avoid getting dengue
The main way to protect yourself from dengue fever is to protect yourself from mosquito bites, and you can also help protect your community by making sure mosquitoes have no place to breed.
Mosquitoes will lay their eggs in stagnant water. This can include objects such as trash cans and tires that fill with rainwater, water sources such as dog bowls and birdbaths, and puddles that form on the ground or in tarps. Drop these items regularly if you can’t stop them from filling up. (For example, if your dog has an outdoor water bowl, be sure to empty it twice a week.)
To protect yourself from being bitten, the CDC recommends using an effective insect repellent (such as one containing DEET), wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants where possible, and using window screens to keep mosquitoes out of the home.
There is a vaccine against dengue fever that is currently approved for children aged 9 to 16 years living in areas where dengue is common. Not approved for people just traveling to those places.
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