Due to the tropical weather conditions and our climate, Singapore is a natural breeding ground for mosquitoes. Besides the inconvenience of itchy mosquito bites and a bit of blood, mosquitoes can also cause dengue fever. While most dengue cases are mild, the virus can be deadly—even causing death in severe cases. Find out more about the symptoms of dengue and how you can lower your and your loved ones’ risk of contracting it.
What is dengue fever?
Dengue fever is a disease caused by the dengue virus. The virus is transmitted to humans via the bite of an infective mosquito. Individuals who have been infected with dengue before can be reinfected, up to a total of four times due to the four different strains of the virus. In mild cases, most people recover from dengue within one to two weeks.
Typical symptoms of dengue fever include:
- Sudden onset of fever for two to seven days
- Severe headache with pain behind the eyes
- Joint and muscle pains
- Skin rashes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mild bleeding such as nosebleeds or gum bleeding
- Easy bruising of skin
Symptoms usually appear about four to 10 days after infection. Some people who are infected with dengue fever do not get any symptoms at all.
What does a case of severe dengue fever look like?
Severe dengue, otherwise known as dengue haemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome, can be fatal. With severe dengue, the blood vessels become damaged causing the number of clot-forming cells in the bloodstream to decrease. This could lead to a host of deadly situations such as the individual going into shock, organ failure, internal bleeding, and in the worst-case scenario, death. Usually, a person who has had dengue once would be at a higher risk of experiencing a severe infection if they catch it subsequently.
However, first-time dengue infections can be severe as well. This is especially true among the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. This is because these individuals already have weakened body immunity. Warning signs that one may have severe dengue usually develop a day or two after the initial fever from dengue has gone away.
Some symptoms of severe dengue fever to monitor for include the following:
- Severe stomach pain
- Persistent vomiting
- Bleeding from the nose or the gums
- Blood in urine, stools or vomit
- Bleeding under the skin – this could look like bruises
- Difficult or rapid breathing
- Irritability or restlessness
How is dengue treated?
Dengue is treated just as you would treat a regular viral infection — with lots of rest, fluids, and medication for symptomatic relief. There is a need to closely monitor, however, for the potential of it becoming a case of severe dengue. Patients with severe dengue will be hospitalized and treatment will include fluid and electrolyte replacement, and/or blood transfusions.
You can get medications for symptomatic relief by seeing a doctor. The doctor will assess you and prescribe medications to ease some of the symptoms of dengue.
What are the differences between dengue and a normal viral fever?
Because both dengue and a regular flu or cold virus can cause the body temperature to go up, viral fever and dengue fever can look very similar. There are some differences, which we explore in the table below.
If you are unsure whether it is dengue or a viral fever, go to a doctor for an examination. Be prepared to provide some information to the doctor so that he or she can understand your situation better. Some information to prepare will include when your fever started, whether you have gotten it before, where you live (to determine whether it is a hotspot for mosquitoes carrying dengue), and symptoms you have experienced.
Tips to protect you and your family against dengue fever
As dengue fever is transmitted by infectious mosquitoes, the first line of defence would be to prevent mosquito breeding and eradicate sites or conditions which are favourable for mosquitoes to thrive. Some of the steps you can take to protect against dengue fever include the following:
- Wear long-sleeved clothing to cover up body parts from being stung by mosquitoes, especially if going to places with lots of nature, such as parks or farms
- If you grow plants at home, make sure there are no pots or containers lying around that can catch stagnant water, as mosquitoes lay eggs on stagnant water. Cover them up or make a schedule to pour away water containers every one to two days.
- Use mosquito nets and screens to cover windows and open spaces to prevent mosquitoes from flying in
- Turn on air conditioning when sleeping so mosquitoes cannot fly in at night
- Use mosquito repellent to prevent mosquitoes — those with DEET are more effective than those which use natural ingredients
- National Environment Agency has a mobile app called myENV, which gives real-time information on dengue clusters and areas with high mosquito breeding.
Is there a vaccine against dengue?
Yes, there is a vaccine against dengue fever. The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has approved a dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, for individuals aged 12 to 45 years old.
However, this vaccine is only for use by individuals who have had dengue fever before. This is the only licensed dengue vaccine in Singapore, and is used to prevent severe dengue, should there be a recurrence of dengue infection. The vaccine is not recommended for those without prior dengue infection. Besides Dengvaxia, there is no other known vaccine approved for use locally.
Due to the limitations of the vaccine, the best way to protect against dengue fever would be to ensure that your living environment is free of stagnant water, so that mosquitoes cannot breed or thrive.
Dengue can be severe for seniors and those with pre-existing conditions. Unfortunately, there is no known vaccine for individuals who have not had dengue before. The best way of prevention requires lots of moving around and cleaning, which may be hard for some elderly folks or individuals with pre-existing conditions. Homage Care Pros can assist your elderly loved ones by ensuring a safe and dengue-free environment, helping out with clearing still water out or placing mosquito nets or repellent. That way, you can be well assured your loved ones are kept optimally safe from dengue fever as best as possible.
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- Dengue fever – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic. (2022, October 5). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dengue-fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20353078
- Ee, C. (2023, July 10). Dengue vs Normal Viral Fever: What’s The Difference? Homage Malaysia. https://www.homage.com.my/health/dengue-vs-viral-fever/
- MOH | Dengue. (n.d.). https://www.moh.gov.sg/diseases-updates/dengue
- Schaefer, T. J. (2022, November 14). Dengue Fever. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430732/
- TIMESOFINDIA.COM. (2021, November 3). Is your fever an outcome of dengue or a normal viral infection? Here’s how you can tell. The Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/is-your-fever-an-outcome-of-dengue-or-a-normal-viral-infection-heres-how-you-can-tell/photostory/87486519.cms
- World Health Organization: WHO & World Health Organization: WHO. (2023, March 17). Dengue and severe dengue. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dengue-and-severe-dengue