Debunking Myths about Dengue and its Treatment
Dengue (pronounced ‘den-gee’) is a common ailment during the summer months in tropical regions of the world including India. A painful condition caused by a virus and spread by a mosquito; Dengue has no cure. However, its symptoms can be controlled till the condition has almost disappeared. There are several myths associated with the condition, and its important to address them, so that people can seek timely medical help.
Vector-borne diseases are those that are spread by live agent like an insect or a parasitic worm. The root cause of the disease itself can be a bacterial or viral infection. Dengue is exactly one such vector-borne disease. It is caused by a virus named as DENV, and is spread by the bite of a female mosquito of the species Aedes aegypti. This species is commonly found in tropical countries and rarely found in temperate countries. This should be borne in mind while traveling to tropical countries, especially during summer. In fact, one is at risk, anytime during the warm months of April to October.
Like with any other mosquito species, Aedes aegypti (AA) also breeds in stagnant pools of water. These can be found in public spaces around one’s home or even water accumulating inside the home. These include toilet bowls, dirty kitchen sinks with standing water, rooftop gutters, potted plants or gardens with standing water, etc. That is why, one of the important measures to prevent the spread of Dengue is to keep one’s house clean, and to scrub bathroom floors with toilet disinfectants.
There are 4 strains or variations of the Dengue virus, named as DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3 and DEN-4. One could be infected by any of these strains.
Symptoms of Dengue infection
Dengue can be a painful condition, and if left untreated, it can cause several complications and be fatal too. It causes a fever that is bone-breaking or leads to severe pain in the bones. The fever again is of 2 types – a milder version called Dengue Fever (DF) and a more severe one that is accompanied by bleeding, called Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever (DHF).
In the initial days, those infected with Dengue suffer from severe headache, swollen glands, rashes on the skin, muscle pain, joint pain, nausea and vomiting. Some people with severe infection show symptoms such as fluid accumulation, severe bleeding, plasma leaking, organ damage and difficulty in breathing. Others symptoms in both mild and severe cases include – severe pain in the abdomen, fatigue, restlessness, heavy/rapid breathing, enlargement of the liver, persistent vomiting, bleeding from nose or gums, and blood in the vomit or stools.
Also Read: Stay Safe from Dengue Mosquitoes
12 Popular myths about Dengue that needs to be busted
Dengue can be spread by any mosquito
No. Just like how malaria is spread only by the female Anopheles mosquito, so also, Dengue is spread only by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito. Further, this can happen only when the mosquito has been infected by the DENV or dengue virus. To that extent, the risk of exposure is reduced, however, AA mosquitoes are quite common unfortunately.
Dengue is contagious
The virus is spread by the bite of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito and there is no other mode of transmission. The condition does not spread by Droplet infection as in the case of Covid, so no, Dengue is not contagious. The myth has spread from the fact that family members or neighbours are known to get infected. The real reason for this is that the AA mosquito does not travel far, so an infected one could bite all the people in the vicinity.
Dengue affects people living in dirty surroundings
No, Dengue is not a disease that affects the less fortunate only. The myth has spread from the understanding that mosquito larvae breed in stagnant water and pools of stagnant water are only found in dirty localities where the poor live. As mentioned earlier, seemingly clean and harmless pools of water can also breed the larvae. And such pools are found in the homes of the rich and affluent too.
Dengue mosquito bites only during the day
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are day feeders which means they venture out in the day-time to feed. This means, most cases of an AA bite happen in the day-time. However, there have been instances of people bitten in the evening or night and getting infected with Dengue.
Dengue affects only the elderly and children, darker people and women
The most common myth among the youth is that they are immune to the disease, and that only elders or children are vulnerable. This is far from the truth. Dengue can affect people irrespective of their age. It’s just that younger people with good immunity show less pronounced symptoms than elders or children with weak immune systems. Another myth is that Dengue affects dark-skinned people and women more. This is not true. Dengue affects people equally irrespective of age, race, gender and class.
Dengue mosquito bites people wearing dark clothes
This is not true. The AA mosquito is attracted to carbon-di-oxide and heat. So hot weather, overweight people (as they sweat a lot), are some of the risk factors. The myth comes from the fact that dark clothes can increase the body temperature as dark-colours absorb light more than light-colours do.
Dengue is a mild condition and quite harmless
Dengue infection is of 2 types – mild and severe. In both cases, symptoms are seen, and are more pronounced in severe cases. Bone-crushing pain, and high fever are common in cases of severe infection. If the symptoms are not brought under control quickly, the condition can be fatal too. Around 1 in 20 people infected with Dengue develop severe infection, which can lead to high fever, severe internal bleeding and very low platelet condition, all of which can lead to death.
Also Read: Dengue Fever Alert!
Papaya-leaf juice can cure Dengue
One of the symptoms of Dengue is a low platelet-count, and papaya-leaf juice as well as its extract given as tablets are known to restore platelet count. However, there are many conditions that cause low platelet-count and Dengue is just one of them. Further, many people infected with Dengue do not show low platelet-count. At best, papaya-leaf juice is a supportive medicine that restores platelet count quickly, so doctors can now focus on other symptoms.
You only get Dengue-infection once in a lifetime
This is a half-truth which has become a myth. As mentioned earlier, there are 4 strains of the DENV virus. At any point of time, DENV infection happens due to any one strain only, after which, the person develops immunity against that particular strain. However, there are 3 other strains which can infect the same person later. This means, one can actually develop Dengue infection 4 times in a lifetime (assuming newer strains of DENV will not emerge).
Dengue can be cured
No, as of the time of writing this article, there is no vaccine or drug that can effectively cure or help treat Dengue, anywhere in the world. The infection must run its full course before it naturally subsides. Till then, medication that brings down all the symptoms are the only hope.
You will heal on your own and no medication is required
The answer in the previous myth has created this dangerous myth, that one need not take medication for Dengue and the condition will heal on its own. Far from the truth. Yes, the viral infection will run its full course before the virus gets weakened and dies. However, the symptoms caused by the viral infection must be addressed immediately. If left untreated, they can lead to severe complications and even become fatal, as mentioned earlier.
You cannot get Dengue and Covid at the same time
Another myth that was spread during the pandemic that one cannot get infected by both the Covid-19 virus and the DENV virus at the same time. Far from the truth. During the pandemic, there were instances of both these infections co-occurring in patients, in India, Thailand, Bangladesh, etc. Needless to say, doctors had to address symptoms of both infections.
Today, since there is no vaccine or drug that can effectively cure Dengue-virus-infection, prevention is the only form of cure. Preventing mosquito bites, or reducing their risk to the best possible extent, is the only ray of hope. To achieve this, one must follow a couple of guidelines:
- If you are traveling to a tropical country between April and October, please refer travel advisories about dengue outbreaks in that country.
- Wear clothes that cover the arms and legs during the warm months.
- Standing water in containers such as buckets, flower-vases, coolers, mini-fountains, etc, should be taken out and changed once a week, without fail.
- As far as possible, water containers should be covered with a lid.
- For water-containers that cannot be covered, use a good larvicide available locally.
- Inside the home or workplace, use aerosols that offer protection from mosquito-bites.
- At night, its preferable to use a mosquito-net while sleeping.
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- Feb 16, 2023