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Dengue Awareness Month This June

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June is “Dengue Awareness Month” in the Philippines as part of the Department of Health’s campaign to prevent the disease.

Last 10th of June 2013, it was reported that Kidapawan City in North Cotabato had an alarming rate for dengue cases. Five children died due to dengue fever between January and May of this year. There was also 277 dengue cases recorded in the province, according to physician and city assistant health secretary Ted Calia.

Dengue fever is a tropical disease caused by viral infection by the dengue virus. It is also known as “breakbone fever.” This health threat infects 50 to 100 million people worldwide each year, particularly in the Southeast Asia and Latin America. There was also a small outbreak of dengue fever in Florida back in 2010.


The Secret Agent

A mosquito called Aedes aegypti is the carrier of the dengue virus. It is a female mosquito that bites humans and animals. They have a lifespan of two to four weeks. The Aedes mosquito is very adaptive and have distinctive white stripes on their legs and body. Like any typical mosquito, it lays eggs on stagnant water. It bites during the day.

 

denguemosquito

 

Dengue is the most significant mosquito-borne viral disease in the world today with regards to illness and death rate. In most cases of dengue fever, it develops into a life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever.


Know Your Enemy

The deadly dengue virus is the cause of dengue fever. A virus is a nonliving thing but has living thing traits, like containing genetic materials (DNA and RNA). The dengue virus is described by pathologists (doctors specialising in disease study) as a single positive-stranded RNA virus.

Once they enter a human host, viruses release DNA or RNA codes that cause the body to function abnormally, thus a person becomes sick. The virus that causes dengue particularly attacks the platelets in our blood.

In the case of the virus that causes dengue, the normal functioning of platelets are messed up. Platelets (or thrombocytes) are blood cells responsible for blood clotting. When the platelets are not healthy (for instance during a viral infection), a person experiences internal bleeding, sudden high fever, and very low blood pressure. Other symptoms also include severe headaches, pain behind the eyes, severe joint and muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and skin rash after three to four days of fever onset. There is also mild bleeding in the form of nose bleeding, bleeding gums and easy bruising. There are times when these symptoms are mistaken for flu. In some patients, the symptoms are mild. Dengue infection is characterised by hemorrhagic fever, a life-threatening symptom.

 

Hemorrhagic Fever

Hemorrhagic fever (or H-fever) is a general term for fever caused by viral infection, like in dengue hemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus, and yellow fever. This is common in tropical climates and usually transmitted to humans by insects or rodents. Hemorrhagic fever is notable for very high fever, internal bleeding, dangerous hypotension, and shock (dengue shock syndrome).

Hemorrhagic fever (or H-fever) is different from an ordinary fever. Doctors will say it is dangerous, but what makes it different or dangerous unlike an ordinary fever? The skin rashes that looks like pin-prick red spots are manifestations that internal bleeding had happened inside one’s body. Inside our bodies, we have blood vessels and tiny capillaries where blood flows smoothly for circulation. For a normal body, these blood vessels and capillaries are like tiny tubes that are flexible and elastic. They can withstand abrupt movement and even change in pressure or extreme temperature. However, at its abnormal state when one has H-fever, these blood vessels and capillaries become brittle. Try to image a person having blood capillaries under his/her skin that are made of glass. A simple movement or jerking can cause instant bleeding internally. That is how bad and dangerous H-fever is.

Also, our bodies have the normal and natural capability to stop bleeding (called “blood clotting”) in a few minutes. A person with H-fever is incapable of normal function of blood clotting, thus putting that person at risk of uncontrollable bleeding.

The problem with dengue fever is that the symptoms are extreme and it damages the normal functioning of the whole body, thus is it life-threatening if not treated properly.


Dengue_fever_symptoms.svg

 

Treatment and Prevention

The onset of the illness usually begins from four to seven days after a person is bitten by a carrier mosquito. Sometimes it can continue upto 14 days.

Most doctors can determine whether a rash is just an allergic reaction or a rash due to dengue fever. However, once a doctor has suspicion that a patient has dengue fever, the patient is required to take a blood test.

There are no medicines that can treat dengue infection, but patients are given meds to relieve the symptoms. Aspirin should be avoided because this will trigger further bleeding. For patients with very low platelet count, platelet transfusions may be required.

Since patients with dengue infection are prone to bleeding; they should have bed rest and avoid heavy activities or abrupt movements.

 

Ways to Protect Yourself:

1. Use mosquito repellents whether you are indoor or outdoor.

2. Mosquitoes may be warded off naturally by using oil burners or scented candles with citronella or eucalyptus scent. Colognes with these scents also have the same mosquito-repelling effect.

3. There are also chemical insect repellents with a chemical called DEET. There are DEET products in sticker patch form that are safe for children.

4. Wear socks, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when outdoors.

5. Have protective screens for windows and doors. Otherwise, beds should have mosquito nets.

6. Check around your house for flower vases or bottles with water plants or flower cuttings. They might contain dirty, stagnant water with mosquito larvae.

7. Also check around the kitchen area for cabinets under the sink for possible breeding area of mosquitoes.

 

Hope for a Vaccine

Currently, a vaccine is being developed by a French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi SA. However, at this stage, the vaccine still needs to undergo further testing and improvement. The task is not easy as it entails several trials involving many people and many test levels.

Their ongoing research and experimentation involves testing the vaccine on thousands of subjects. Another factor that adds difficulty to the study is that dengue infection involves four distinct viral strains. Initial research was focused on trying to find immunity from each viral strain. Lately, the doctors behind the research team found a connection with the immune system’s T-cells (“soldiers” inside our body). How the body’s protective T-cells react with each strain of dengue virus varies, thus each strain requires a different vaccine formulation.

Researchers are trying to find the right approach on how to prevent the viral cycle from causing infection, whether it is by understanding each of the four’s viral strain or solving the problem with reference to the T-cells of the body.

Sanofi is ongoing with their vaccine trials, hopefully with their final stage. It will take time as it involves thousands of participants in Asia and Latin America.

 

 
Author: Marcelle Villegas  
 

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Photo source:

Mosquito – http://www.makoyskie.com/2013/06/dengue-scare.html

Schematic depiction of the symptoms of dengue fever – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dengue_fever_symptoms.svg

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Related post:
 
Dengue Prevention Tips
 
 

 

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