Dengue is a disease caused by any one of four closely related dengue viruses (DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3, or DENV 4). Dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) is a more severe form of dengue infection. It can be fatal if unrecognized and not properly treated in a timely manner. DHF is caused by infection with the same viruses that cause dengue fever. Dengue is transmitted to people by the bite of an Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito that is infected with a dengue virus. The mosquito becomes infected with dengue virus when it bites a person who has dengue virus in their blood. The person can either have symptoms of dengue fever or dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), or they may have no symptoms. After about one week, the mosquito can then transmit the virus while biting a healthy person. Dengue cannot be spread directly from person to person.
The principal symptoms of dengue fever are high fever, severe headache, severe pain behind the eyes, joint pain, muscle and bone pain, rash, and mild bleeding (e.g., nose or gums bleed, easy bruising). Generally, younger children and those with their first dengue infection have a milder illness than older children and adults.
Dengue hemorrhagic fever is characterized by a fever that lasts from 2 to 7 days, with general signs and symptoms consistent with dengue fever. When the fever declines, symptoms including persistent vomiting, severe abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing, may develop. This marks the beginning of a 24- to 48-hour period when the smallest blood vessels (capillaries) become excessively permeable (“leaky”). This may lead to failure of the circulatory system and shock, followed by death, if circulatory failure is not corrected. In addition, the patient with DHF has a low platelet count and hemorrhagic manifestations, tendency to bruise easily or other types of skin hemorrhages, bleeding nose or gums, and possibly internal bleeding.
There is no vaccine for preventing dengue. The best preventive measure for residents living in areas infested with Ae. aegypti or Aedes albopictus is to eliminate the places where the mosquito lays her eggs, primarily artificial containers that hold water. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Traveler’s Health for information on travel notices to dengue endemic destinations.
Items that collect rainwater or to store water (for example, plastic containers, 55-gallon drums, buckets, or used automobile tires) should be covered or properly discarded. Pet and animal watering containers and vases with fresh flowers should be emptied and cleaned (to remove eggs) at least once a week. This will eliminate the mosquito eggs and larvae and reduce the number of mosquitoes present in these areas.
Using air conditioning or window and door screens reduces the risk of mosquitoes coming indoors. Proper application of mosquito repellents on exposed skin and clothing decreases the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. To learn more about repellents, visit these CDC websites: Insect Repellent: Use and Effectiveness, Dengue, and Dengue: FAQs.
Dengue Fever Resources
- Dengue and the Aedes aegypti mosquito
- Dengue and the Aedes albopictus mosquito
- Dengue and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever
- Is it Chikungunya or Dengue?
- Mosquito Bite Prevention for Travelers | en Español
- Prevent Mosquito Production in Your Septic Tank
- Help Control Mosquitoes that Spread Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika Viruses (7.4 MB) | en Español (6.8 MB)
- Dengue Case Management for Clinicians
- CDC Travel Notices
Page last updated: April 17, 2017