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Dengue, the ignored killer

NAIROBI, September 22 – Unnoticed, a mosquito lands on the little girl’s bare arm. The insect quickly pierces her skin and taps the bloodstream. After a few moments, the mother glances at her daughter and spots the mosquito. With a quick swat, it is gone. Is that the end of it? Maybe not.

The mosquito may be gone, but its brief invasion into the child’s bloodstream has left unwanted organisms that are capable of causing disease.

Within two weeks the child experiences chills, headache, pain behind the eyes, extreme aching in her joints, and a high fever. As the illness progresses, she develops a red rash and becomes completely exhausted.

She has contracted dengue, a fever from a mosquito’s bite.

Worse still, especially if the child has had a previous dengue infection, she may develop the more serious form of the disease, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF). With it, the capillaries leak, resulting in skin hemorrhages. There may be internal bleeding. Without proper treatment, the patient may experience profound shock and circulatory failure, leading to rapid death.

What exactly is dengue? Can it affect you? How can you protect yourself and your family?

According to a tropical medicine specialist Dr Andrew Suleh, Dengue (also called break bone fever), is just one of a number of diseases that can result from a mosquito’s bite.

Speaking to Capital News, he pointed out that the actual cause of the disease is a virus.
“An infected mosquito, that is a mosquito that has previously bitten an infected human, carries the virus in its salivary glands. In the process of biting a person to get blood, it transfers the virus to the human,” he explained.

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The culprit mosquito species is called Aedes aegypti, and is common to tropical and subtropical areas around the world, thriving in highly populated areas.

Dr Suleh said the fever is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected person and transfers the virus to a healthy person.

He emphasized the need for caution especially among travelers who are more susceptible to the virus.

“Dengue is transmitted by a group of viruses that are found in this mosquito. The main symptoms include a fever, enlargement of the lymph nodes and a rash,” the tropical medicine specialist pointed out.

“When someone is traveling to some of these areas, one has to be careful about this and usually we advise the use of mosquito nets,” he cautioned.
He further stressed the need to monitor closely the activities of the mosquito carrying the virus.

“As a public health issue there should be surveillance of the Aedes mosquito which is here in Kenya, although it does not carry the virus,” Dr Suleh said.

Although the disease is less known outside tropical areas, in some cases travelers to regions where there is a risk of contracting it have become infected and taken it home with them.

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