Once Bitten: Top Traveler Questions About Dengue Fever

International travel is surely one of the great pleasures in life, something we look forward to and prepare for with great delight. Besides anticipating the gorgeous landscapes, or learning a bit about local history and culture, it's wise to learn about any local health concerns too. In many parts of the Western Hemisphere and Asia, dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral disease, can be a serious health risk.

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Fever Pitch, describes some of the factors that have contributed to the 30-fold increase in dengue fever over the last fifty years. Urbanization and population growth, rapid international travel and trade, and widespread poverty - along with the effects of a changing climate - have created ideal conditions for the "world's most important insect-borne viral disease" to flourish in many parts of the Western Hemisphere. But if you're about to travel to South America or another tropical destination, there's no need to be worried about dengue fever. Just go armed with information. Then you'll be prepared to protect yourself, and there will be little reason to worry.

  • Before you travel, visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, find out what parts of the world are currently experiencing dengue outbreaks, and learn more about how to protect yourself against dengue fever while you're traveling.
  • Protect yourself during your trip, and upon your return.The safest way to travel in dengue-endemic areas is to stay in air-conditioned or well-screened hotels with well-kept grounds, wear long-sleeved, loose clothing, and use insect repellent with 20-30% DEET on exposed skin. After a bite from an infected mosquito, it takes an average of 4 to 7 days for a person to begin to develop symptoms like a fever, aches, or rash. Many travelers don't even start to feel sick until they are back in the US.
  • If you're a traveler, it's very important to get information about dengue fever or other disease outbreaks in your destination country before you travel, know the precautions to take and the symptoms to watch for - and be sure to talk to your doctor back home about where you have traveled if you're not feeling well after you return.
  • Dengue fever can spread into the US from infected travelers. While many take comfort in being with their doctors back home when ill, if someone becomes infected with dengue fever while abroad, they can unknowingly "import" the virus to the US. Our Fever Pitch Map shows where dengue cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. When someone has the fever, which lasts 2 to 10 days, if they are bitten by another mosquito, it could spread the disease to other people.
  • One friend who was unfortunate enough to have gotten dengue on a tropical trip said, "I felt like my bones were made out of glass- I ached all over, and I just couldn't move. I've never been so miserable in my life." Yet, in general, the prognosis of dengue fever is excellent. Treatment for suspected infections usually includes bedrest and plenty of fluids. To manage the pain and fever, you can take acetaminophen - but be sure to avoid aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. In rare cases, some people-usually children-will need to be treated in the hospital for dengue fever. If that happens, doctors may need to draw blood samples while the patient is sick and again after recovery to confirm the dengue fever diagnosis.
  • So while you're packing sunscreen and shopping for other supplies, pick up the latest tips on how to enjoy a safe tropical trip at the CDC Travelers' Health Website.

And NRDC will do our part: (1) We will urge the CDC to require reporting of dengue fever so the spread of the disease within the US can be accurately tracked; and (2) We will continue to push for strong climate legislation in order to slow global warming.