Dengue Fever (breakbone fever, dengue hemorrhagic fever)

Last Reviewed: July 2017

What is dengue?

Dengue is a disease caused by the bite of a mosquito infected with any one of four specific Dengue viruses. It causes high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eye, joint pain, and muscle pain. The mosquitos that carry this disease are mainly in tropical areas so travelers may arrive in the United States with dengue fever. Although most cases occurring in the United States are associated with travel to areas where dengue is endemic, there have been occasional outbreaks of local dengue virus transmission, particularly in southern states.

What is dengue hemorrhagic fever?

Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a more severe form of dengue. Dengue hemorrhagic fever needs to be treated in a timely manner by your health care provider.

Who gets dengue?

People of all ages can get dengue fever if they are exposed to infected mosquitoes. The disease occurs mainly in tropical Asia and the Caribbean, usually during the rainy seasons in areas with high numbers of infected Aedes mosquito. For the latest travel advisory, visit CDC Travel Notice.

How is dengue spread?

Dengue fever is mainly spread by the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, which includes A. aegypti and A. albopictus mosquitoes. A mosquito becomes infected when it bites a person who has dengue in his or her blood. After about a week, the mosquito is able to spread the disease to another person when it bites. Direct spread of dengue from one person to another does not occur. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are not found naturally in New York State.

What are the signs and symptoms of dengue fever?

Dengue fever symptoms include sudden onset of a fever that may last from 2 to 7 days with intense headache, joint and muscle pain, and a rash. Mild bleeding of the nose or gums may occur. The hemorrhagic form of dengue fever is more severe and symptoms may include loss of appetite, persistent vomiting, high fever, headache, difficulty breathing, and abdominal pain. This may lead to shock and circulatory failure.

Dengue fever may occur from 3 to 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, but usually within 4 to 7 days.

How is dengue fever diagnosed?

Symptoms and travel history can cause a health care provider to suspect dengue fever. Laboratory tests will be needed to confirm diagnosis by seeing if the virus or antibodies against the virus are present in the person's blood.

What is the treatment for dengue fever?

There is no specific treatment available. Intravenous fluids and oxygen therapy are often used for patients who become very ill. Access to proper medical care reduces the likelihood that the disease will become more serious.

Does past infection with dengue virus make a person immune?

Infection with one of the four strains of dengue virus usually produces immunity to that strain but does not provide protection against the other strains.

What can be done to prevent the spread of dengue fever?

There are not yet any approved vaccines to prevent infection with dengue virus. Since cases of dengue appearing in New York are imported, preventive measures are advised for travelers going to affected areas to minimize exposure to mosquitoes. The most effective protective measures are those that avoid mosquito bites. Use of insect repellents may be helpful in minimizing exposure. More information on repellents can be found at Environmental Protection Agency - insect-repellents.

In addition:

  • Be sure to follow label directions.
  • Try to reduce the use of repellents by dressing in long sleeves and pants tucked into socks or boots.
  • Children should only handle repellents with adult supervision. Adults should apply repellents to their own hands first and then gently spread on the child's exposed skin. Avoid applying directly to children's hands. After returning indoors, wash your child's treated skin and clothing with soap and water or give the child a bath.
  • Do not apply near eyes, nose or mouth and use sparingly around ears.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.