Dengue fever sucks. I’ll start with that. It’s especially terrible if you have to tackle 22-hours of air travel on the day that it hits you. Seriously, ick. If you’re anything like me, you may have stumbled upon this post during a Google search for, “Will I die from dengue fever?” Well, you are in luck—the answer is (most likely) “NO” and here is a breakdown of my dengue experience so you know what to expect (and why you should do your best to avoid it).
After six months in SE Asia, I woke up in Thailand for the last time on June 18th. I was flying out that night (or rather, the next morning) at 2:30am and planned to spend my final day relaxing with my new dog, enjoying Thailand’s best cuisine (almond Magnum ice cream bars and black currant Sugus candies). I’m a girl of refined taste, after all. Everything was fine until 2:00pm, when suddenly my body rebelled. I began to feel feverish and my joints and muscles ached. My first thought was that I had simply run down my body, as I hadn’t been getting much sleep during my final days of vacation. I took a 2-hour nap that would surely heal everything. However, when I woke up I was worse. Uh oh.
In the week before I departed from Koh Lanta, both the founder and general manager of Lanta Animal Welfare had come down with dengue fever. Naturally, that is where my mind immediately sprinted, despite the fact that I only had five bug bites on my entire body. I immediately decided to do what any semi-rational hypochondriac would do and headed to Google. According to WebMD, dengue fever symptoms include sudden high fever, pain behind the eyes, severe joint and muscle pain, and a skin rash (among others). Well, I was batting .800 on that front, but figured I was OK because I didn’t have a rash. Phew.
An hour later I stripped down to hop in the shower and passed by the bathroom mirror. There it was—a red rash across my torso and back. Uh oh, again.
Those first 24-hours were the toughest, as I made the decision to go forward with my flights home. The thought of rebooking for both Lady and I felt like more of a hassle than simply bucking up and getting on the planes. I lucked out and was able to sleep (on my first flight and layover) for most of the first 11 hours in transit, and had timed my Tylenol intake perfectly so that I passed through the heat-sensing scanner in the Seoul airport without issue. I can online imagine how being detained along with a tick-covered dog would have gone in South Korea. Thankfully, we cruised right through.
DAYS 2 – 4
My 102.5 degree fever (39.2 for you Celsius speakers) persisted and was only eased by two extra strength Tylenol every 4-6 hours. I felt semi-human when the meds were in full affect, but swung from body chills to sweats as they began working and wore off. The only “treatment,” in addition to fever reducers, is to stay hydrated and so I sucked back water like it was my job. I went to the doctor for blood work and my white blood cell count was at 2,000 (normal is between 4,500 and 10,000) while my platelets were through the roof. My body was pissed.
Important Note: Do not take Advil (ibuprofen) or aspirin for dengue as it increases the risk of dengue hemorrhagic fever.
DAYS 5 – 7
The fever waned and I was finally able to enjoy my first glass of California wine since December. It had been torturous to be so close to my beloved juice and yet feel so repulsed by it due to my illness. My energy level rose and I required less sleep in order to function. It was glorious, but I was not out of the woods just yet.
Now came the rash. Not the initial rash that signaled the onset of the fever, but the rash that everyone complains about. My arms and legs were covered by what looked like thousands of tiny red pinpricks (see below, if you dare). My feet and hands swelled and felt as if I’d been screwing IKEA furniture together without tools for five days. Jeans were suddenly made of steel wool and I received lots of comments about my “sunburn.”
The rash was fading and no longer itched. I began to look like I had a slight sunkissed look and felt like myself again. I had survived dengue fever and am now able to share the full story with you. Now, what should be your takeaway? Because there is no vaccine for dengue fever, always wear bug repellant when in high-risk areas, even if mosquitoes don’t tend to bother you. If you do contract dengue, rest and take good care of yourself—and then enjoy some wine once it’s gone.