1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Dengue fever: The small but lethal mosquito bite

Chrispin Mwakideu
September 2, 2019

Often mistaken for malaria, dengue fever can be fatal if left untreated. With no cure for the mosquito-borne disease, prevention against mosquito bites, early detection and medical care can help.

Mosquito which can transmit Dengue fever.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/G. Amador

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral infection spread by the Aedes mosquito.

There are four distinct strains — called serotypes — of the dengue virus. Recovery from a dengue infection gives a person immunity against that particular subtype of dengue. However, this doesn't stop someone becoming infected with another dengue serotype — and a subsequent infection can be more severe.

Initially dengue fever was prevalent in Asia and Latin America but currently about half the world's population is at risk. Dengue fever is prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Hands holding a child's bandaged hand after drawing blood for testin
A blood test is the surest way of knowing if one is infected with Dengue Image: Getty Images/AFP/O. Sierra

Is dengue fever deadly? Yes, according to the World Health Organization, if left untreated, dengue fever can become severe and eventually lead to death. Presently, there is no specific treatment against dengue. But early detection and proper medical care can save lives.

Dengue mistaken for malaria

Most people who suffer from dengue fever often confuse it with malaria. Sometimes, even health officials make that mistake. To tell the difference we need to be aware of the symptoms.

A dengue infection manifests itself after 4-10 days  following a bite from an infected Aedes mosquito. Apart from high temperature, dengue fever symptoms include severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pains, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands or a rash.

A Kenyan child sleeps under a mosquito net
Sleeping under a treated mosquito net can help keep away the mosquitoes which spread the Dengue feverImage: AP

There is a vaccine against dengue fever but the vaccine known as Dengvaxia is somewhat controversial.There is a vaccine against dengue fever but the vaccine known as Dengvaxia is somewhat controversial.It must only be used in endemic areas and should be given to people between the ages of 9-45. In some cases, it has been associated with increased risk of severe dengue in those who experience their first natural dengue infection.

There are other dengue fever vaccines in clinical trials but the difficult thing in as far as vaccines are concerned is that an effective one must protect against all four types of dengue fever.

Like with all vaccines, it is important to first ask your doctor about the benefits and risks of the vaccine.

The Mosquito Factory