Dengue is much more severe than the flu, and everyone is susceptible because there are four different strains. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.
Since the start of the year, more than 20,000 cases of dengue have been reported, according to nea.gov.sg. That’s a record high, and that number is still creeping up, with more than 1,000 reported cases a week during this peak season. We get experts to shed light on six common myths about dengue, and how to protect yourself from it.
MYTH #1: A dengue infection is like a bad flu.
FACT #1: The severe form of dengue can be fatal.
While symptoms like high fever and body aches sound pretty much like last month’s flu, dengue can also cause intense headaches, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting. Skin rashes usually start a few days after the onset of fever or towards the end of the illness.
In some cases, the virus can lead to the more serious dengue haemorrhagic fever, characterised by bleeding in the gums, nose, into the skin and internal organs, according to Singhealth. Left untreated, this can cause death. In severe cases, the infected person needs to be hospitalised and monitored as his or her major organs like the lungs, liver and kidneys may be affected, says Dr Indumathi Venkatachalam from the Infectious Diseases department at Singapore General Hospital.
MYTH #2: If I get bitten by an Aedes mosquito, I’ll get dengue.
FACT #2: It depends on whether the mosquito is infected.
While the Aedes is the only vector of dengue, not all bites from the striped-leg mozzie spell doom. The Aedes is infectious only after it bites a person who has the dengue virus. When this happens, the virus multiplies in the mosquito and reaches its salivary glands over a week, making it infectious, explains Professor Leo Yee Sin, local dengue expert and executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. The virus stays in the mosquito for life, which means this elusive bloodsucker can infect as many people as it bites for two weeks (its average lifespan). There’s no telling which mosquitoes have been infected, so don’t take any chances – kill on sight, and remove all possible breeding grounds.
MYTH #3: Aedes mosquitoes only bite at night.
FACT #3: They are daytime creatures.
These mozzies are most active during dawn and dusk, according to the National Environment Agency of Singapore (NEA). Also, not noticing them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. These stealthy high fliers – they can fly up to 60 metres (or 21 storeys) and cover a 568-metre radius – are hard to catch and often produce painless, non-itchy bites. In fact, you may not even know you’ve been bitten until the symptoms of infection surface, says Prof Leo. According to the Ministry of Health, the virus takes four to seven days to incubate before symptoms show.
MYTH #4: I’ve had dengue before, so I won’t get it again.
FACT #4: It depends on the virus strain.
There are four strains of dengue virus which have been circulating in the region for decades: DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3, and DENV-4. A person develops immunity only against the strain he or she had recovered from. However, this individual also runs the risk of developing severe dengue if infected by other strains, according to the World Health Organisation.
According to the NEA, different communities in Singapore are susceptible to different strains, so those who were not exposed to particular strains previously may be at greater risk this year.
MYTH #5: Iron supplements, acupuncture and Chinese herbs will help in the recovery from dengue.
FACT #5: None of these remedies are proven to be effective.
In the case of dengue haemorrhagic fever, internal bleeding occurs and your platelet (cells that help your blood clot) count may drop to a dangerously low level. While consuming iron-rich food to replenish the lost blood sounds logical, experts say there is no hard evidence to support that. Get lots of rest and water instead, advises Singhealth. Drinking sufficient water is important to prevent dehydration from vomiting and fever.
Platelet counts usually restore naturally about two days after the end of the illness, adds Dr Venkatachalam.
MYTH #6: I don’t have pools of water at home, so mozzies can’t breed.
FACT #6: A tiny puddle the size of a 20-cent coin is enough for the Aedes mosquito’s eggs to hatch.
According to the NEA, the most common breeding spots are pails, plastic containers and bottles, flower pot plates or trays, vases, plant bowls as well as canvas and plastic sheets – where small pools of water can easily accumulate. Also check your roof gutters, gully traps, unused toilet bowls or cisterns (water tanks) in the toilet, and even the collars of toilet bowls.
What’s more alarming: The Aedes mosquito has adapted such that its eggs can lie dormant in a dry place for up to nine months, and hatch within a day of being exposed to water. A female mosquito can lay 100 eggs thrice in its lifetime. Yikes.
Prevent mosquito breeding with this checklist from the NEA
- Flip the flower pot plates and clear the axils.
- Loosen the hardened soil.
- Turn pails over and wipe rims dry.
- Remove excess water by tipping vase/brush holders.
- Wipe dry the kitchen dish rack/drying tray.
- Cover bamboo pole holders when they are not in use.
- Treat potential breeding habitats such as roof gutter and drains with Bti insecticide.
Additionally, take these steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.
- Spray insecticide in dark corners such as under your bed, sofa and curtains.
- Apply mosquito repellent and wear long sleeves and pants to protect yourself.
Visit nea.gov.sg for the latest info about dengue.