Dengue Fever



Dengue fever, caused by the dengue virus, is a mosquito-borne viral illness that affects millions of people globally each year. The disease is endemic in tropical and subtropical regions, with outbreaks occurring primarily during the rainy season. In recent decades, dengue has become a major public health concern due to its increasing incidence and the potential for severe complications.


Dengue Virus:

The dengue virus belongs to the Flaviviridae family and has four distinct serotypes (DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3, and DENV-4). Infection with one serotype confers lifelong immunity to that specific serotype but provides only partial and temporary immunity to the others. Sequential infections with different serotype increase the risk of severe dengue.




Global Distribution:

Dengue fever is found in more than 100 countries, predominantly in Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific, and the Americas. It is estimated that around 3.9 billion people are at risk of contracting dengue globally. The distribution of the disease is influenced by various factors, including climate, urbanisation, and the presence of suitable mosquito vectors.


Burden of Disease:

The burden of dengue fever is substantial, with an estimated 100-400 million cases occurring annually. Dengue-related deaths, primarily resulting from severe dengue, are estimated to range from 22,000 to 55,000 per year. The disease also has significant socioeconomic implications, affecting productivity, healthcare systems, and tourism in affected regions.


Mosquito Vectors:

The primary mosquito vectors responsible for dengue transmission are Aedes aegypti and, to a lesser extent, Aedes albopictus. These mosquitoes are well adapted to urban environments, breed in small water collections, and have a preference for feeding on human blood. Their activity peaks during the daytime, with increased biting activity around dawn and dusk.


Modes of Transmission:

Dengue virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female mosquitoes. The virus can also be transmitted vertically from an infected mother to her foetus during pregnancy and through sexual contact. Rare cases of transmission through blood transfusion and organ transplantation have also been reported.


Immune Response:

Upon infection, the immune response plays a crucial role in determining the outcome of the disease. While an effective immune response can control the infection, an unbalanced or excessive immune response can lead to severe dengue. Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) is a phenomenon where pre-existing dengue antibodies enhance the entry and replication of a different serotype, increasing the risk of severe disease.

Severe Dengue:

Severe dengue, also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) and dengue shock syndrome (DSS), is characterised by plasma leakage, bleeding tendencies, organ impairment, and shock. The pathogenesis of severe dengue involves complex interactions between the virus, host immune response, and endothelial dysfunction.

Clinical Manifestations

Dengue fever typically presents with sudden onset high fever, severe headache, retro-orbital pain, myalgia, arthralgia, rash, and mild bleeding manifestations. The illness is usually self-limiting, with symptoms lasting for about 2-7 days. However, in some cases, the disease can progress to severe dengue.

Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever:

Dengue hemorrhagic fever is characterised by bleeding manifestations, thrombocytopenia, and plasma leakage, leading to hemoconcentration and organ dysfunction. Patients may experience petechiae, ecchymosis, mucosal bleeding, and, in severe cases, internal bleeding. Early recognition and prompt medical intervention are critical in managing this potentially life-threatening condition.


Dengue Shock Syndrome:

Dengue shock syndrome represents the most severe form of dengue infection. It is characterised by severe plasma leakage resulting in shock, organ failure, and a high risk of mortality. Patients may present with profound hypotension, cold extremities, weak pulse, altered mental status, and signs of severe organ dysfunction.


Clinical Assessment:

The clinical evaluation of patients suspected of having dengue fever includes a detailed medical history, physical examination, and assessment of symptoms. The presence of characteristic symptoms, combined with an epidemiological link to dengue-endemic areas, can help in the initial diagnosis.

Laboratory Tests:

Laboratory tests play a crucial role in confirming the diagnosis of dengue fever. These include tests for detecting dengue-specific antibodies (IgM and IgG), viral RNA (PCR), and NS1 antigen. Haematological parameters, such as platelet count and hematocrit, are also monitored to assess disease severity.

Differential Diagnosis:

Dengue fever shares clinical features with other febrile illnesses, such as malaria, chikungunya, and Zika virus infection. Differential diagnosis should consider the local epidemiology, clinical presentation, and specific diagnostic tests to differentiate dengue from other similar conditions.


Supportive Care:

There is no specific antiviral treatment for dengue fever. Supportive care aims to alleviate symptoms, maintain hydration, and manage complications. Bed rest, adequate fluid intake, antipyretics, and analgesics are commonly recommended. Close monitoring for signs of progression to severe dengue is essential.

Fluid Management:

Fluid management is crucial in the treatment of dengue fever, especially in patients with signs of plasma leakage. The goal is to maintain fluid balance, prevent dehydration, and avoid fluid overload. Intravenous fluid therapy, guided by clinical and laboratory parameters, is administered to manage shock and maintain organ perfusion.

Antiviral Medications:

Several antiviral drugs have been investigated for the treatment of dengue fever, but none have demonstrated consistent efficacy in clinical trials. Research is ongoing to identify effective antiviral agents and therapeutic strategies against dengue virus.

Prevention of Complications:

The prevention of complications in dengue fever primarily involves close monitoring and early recognition of warning signs. Prompt medical intervention, including appropriate fluid resuscitation and supportive care, can prevent the progression to severe dengue and reduce mortality rates.

Prevention and Control

Vector Control:

Vector control strategies are fundamental in reducing dengue transmission. This includes source reduction, such as eliminating breeding sites, environmental management, and the application of larvicides or insecticides. Integrated vector management approaches involving community participation and collaboration with local authorities are crucial for long-term control.


Personal Protective Measures:

Individuals can protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellents, wearing protective clothing, and using bed nets. Community education and awareness campaigns play a vital role in promoting personal protective measures.



The development of effective dengue vaccines has been a significant research focus. Several vaccine candidates are in various stages of development and have shown promising results. Dengue vaccination is recommended for individuals living in endemic areas and should be integrated into comprehensive dengue control programs.


Community Engagement:

Engaging communities through health education, community-based initiatives, and social mobilisation is crucial in raising awareness, fostering behaviour change and promoting community participation in dengue prevention and control efforts. Community engagement helps in the implementation of vector control measures, personal protective practices, and early detection of dengue cases.


Challenges and Future Directions


Surveillance and Reporting:

Accurate and timely surveillance systems are essential for monitoring dengue transmission, detecting outbreaks, and implementing control measures. Improving surveillance and reporting mechanisms, including the integration of new technologies and data analysis tools, can enhance early warning systems and response strategies.


Climate Change and Urbanization:

Climate change and rapid urbanisation have a significant impact on dengue transmission. Changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, and urban environments can influence the breeding and behaviour of mosquito vectors. Addressing these challenges requires adaptive strategies and sustainable urban planning to minimise mosquito breeding sites and enhance vector control efforts.


Integrated Approaches:

Effective dengue control requires integrated approaches that combine vector control, personal protective measures, and vaccination programs. Integrating dengue control efforts with existing public health programs can optimise resource utilisation and improve overall health outcomes.


Research and Innovation:

Continued research and innovation are crucial for advancing our understanding of dengue fever and developing new tools and strategies for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. This includes the development of more accurate diagnostic tests, novel antiviral drugs, and the improvement of existing vaccines.


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