Dengue fever is a viral infection that can cause a wide range of symptoms, including life-threatening illness, milder flu-like illness, or sometimes no symptoms at all. About one in four people infected will get sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In recent decades, the number of new cases of dengue has increased dramatically. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that changing land use patterns, increased international travel and trade, and the climate crisis have contributed to the spread of dengue.

Dengue virus (DENV) is spread by bites from Aedes mosquitoes, the same genus of mosquito that spreads the Zika virus and the virus that causes yellow fever.

There are four subtypes (called “serotypes”) of dengue. Each serotype can infect you only once, but infection with one serotype doesn’t provide immunity against the other serotypes, so you can still become infected by the other serotypes of dengue.

With your first dengue infection, you may have few or no symptoms. Unfortunately, the risk for severe dengue increases with each infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Dengue Fever

Symptoms of dengue fever typically develop between 4 and 10 days after a bite from an infected female Aedes mosquito.

Classic symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache and pain behind the eyes
  • Severe muscle and joint pain (the source of dengue's nickname, "breakbone fever")
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Rash
  • Bloody stools
  • Nausea and vomiting
These symptoms usually last for two to seven days, at which point the fever breaks (referred to as “defervescence”).

After defervescence, people either start to get better or they get much worse, developing severe dengue.

Approximately 1 in 20 people with DENV illness go on to develop severe dengue.
According to the CDC, the following symptoms are warning signs that may signal the development of severe dengue, often called dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF):
  • Abdominal pain or tenderness
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Lethargy or restlessness
  • Mucosal bleeding, such as bleeding gums or nosebleeds
  • Liver enlargement
  • Fluid retention

Causes and Risk Factors of Dengue Fever

The virus subtypes that cause dengue fever are spread by female mosquitoes of the species Aedes aegypti, and less commonly by Aedes albopictus.

According to the World Health Organization, Aedes mosquitoes are usually found in urban and suburban areas, as they like to breed in man-made containers such as tires, flowerpots, and household water containers.They bite during the day, especially near dawn and dusk.

Bug Bite Danger Zones — Summer 2020 Alert

Aedes albopictus mosquitos have been transported from tropical countries to North America and Europe, and these mosquitos can survive in cold temperatures, which has allowed dengue to spread to cooler climates.
Some research has shown that people of European or Asian ancestry may be more prone to developing severe dengue infection than other racial groups.

Treatment and Medication Options for Dengue Fever

As with most viruses, treatment options for dengue will only manage its symptoms.

Pain relievers and fever reducers that don't make bleeding worse may be taken, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen).

To stay hydrated, drink plenty of water or drinks with added electrolytes.
Severe dengue may require intravenous (IV) fluids and electrolyte replacement, blood pressure monitoring, and even a blood transfusion, if there's significant blood loss.

Prevention of Dengue Fever

Dengue does not spread directly from person to person, but a person sick with dengue can infect mosquitoes in the area, and those mosquitoes will become contagious to other humans within 8 to 12 days.

7 Natural Ways to Prevent Mosquito Bites

Preventing Mosquito Bites

The primary way to prevent infection with dengue is to prevent mosquito bites in geographic regions where dengue is present. Light-colored clothing and insect repellent can help, as can window screens and mosquito netting.

Source Reduction at Mosquito Breeding Sites

Preventive measures are often geared at eliminating Aedes females' egg-laying sites, a method called "source reduction." Anything that contains standing water can be used by Aedes for laying eggs, from plant saucers to rainwater drums and potholes. Water containers should be kept covered. Unnecessary containers should be disposed of, and necessary water containers should be emptied and scrubbed weekly to remove mosquito eggs.

Infecting Mosquitoes With Competing Bacteria

A recent study has used a genus of bacteria called Wolbachia to infect mosquitoes and compete against the viruses that might infect humans, with promising results, according to the WHO.
Wolbachia bacteria are harmless to humans and also to mosquitoes, but the bacteria make it more difficult for mosquitoes to transmit dengue viruses (DENV) or other viruses that are similar to dengue. One research study showed a 77 percent reduction in dengue cases where Wolbachia-infected Aedes mosquitoes were released, translating into a fourfold reduction in illness from dengue.

Dengvaxia Vaccine

A vaccine called Dengvaxia received very limited approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019.

The FDA has approved the vaccine to be given to people who:

  • Are age 9 to 16
  • Live in areas where dengue is endemic; endemic areas under the FDA’s purview include the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Have previously been infected with dengue, as shown by medical records or a blood test that shows immunity

Research and Statistics: Who Has Dengue Fever?

According to the World Health Organization, about half the world's population is at risk for dengue infection.

In the last two decades, the number of cases reported to the World Health Organization has increased eightfold. It is estimated that there are approximately 400 million dengue infections per year, with about 100 million of those cases manifesting clinically.

Although risk of dengue infection is present in 129 countries worldwide, the regions most seriously affected are the Americas, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific. Seventy percent of the disease burden is in Asia.

Related Conditions of Dengue

Dengue is a type of Flavivirus.Other viruses in this group (like Zika and West Nile virus) share enough genetic similarity and similarity of symptoms that it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose which virus is infecting someone. Even in blood tests, it can be difficult to distinguish them genetically.

Resources We Love

World Health Organization (WHO)

WHO provides a global, comprehensive look at dengue and severe dengue. In addition to a fact sheet on the topic, WHO has the latest news on the disease and a helpful Q&A page.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC has detailed info on dengue — covering symptoms and warning signs to watch for — as well as excellent advice on prevention and mosquito control.

World Mosquito Program

The World Mosquito Program is a nonprofit research and educational organization that is working to eradicate diseases spread by Aedes mosquitoes worldwide.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • WHO Region of the Americas Records Highest Number of Dengue Cases in History; Cases Spike in Other Regions. World Health Organization. November 21, 2019.
  • Dengue for Healthcare Providers: Clinical Presentation. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 3, 2019.
  • Dengue and Severe Dengue. World Health Organization. June 23, 2020.
  • Dengue and Severe Dengue, Frequently Asked Questions. World Health Organization.
  • Dengue: Symptoms and Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 23, 2020.
  • Oliveira M, et al. Joint Ancestry and Association Test Indicate Two Distinct Pathogenic Pathways Involved in Classical Dengue Fever and Dengue Shock Syndrome. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. February 2018.
  • Aedes Albopictus – Factsheet for Experts. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. December 20, 2016.
  • Sharp TM, et al. Dengue and Zika Virus Diagnostic Testing for Patients With a Clinically Compatible Illness and Risk for Infection With Both Viruses. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). June 14, 2019.
  • Dengue Virus Antigen Detection: NS1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 3, 2019.
  • Dengue Fever: Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic. November 18, 2020.
  • Dengue Control: Three-Year Indonesia Trial Shows Promising Results. World Health Organization. July 9, 2020.
  • Callaway E. The Mosquito Strategy that Could Eliminate Dengue: Infecting the Insects With a Bacterium to Stop Disease Transmission Produces 'Staggering' Reduction in Cases. Nature. August 27, 2020.
  • First FDA-Approved Vaccine for the Prevention of Dengue Disease in Endemic Regions. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). May 1, 2019.
  • Dengue and COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 25, 2020.
  • Is It Dengue or Is It COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 24, 2020.
  • Flaviviridae. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 18, 2013.
  • Dengue Fever. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Dengue and Severe Dengue Infographic. World Health Organization (WHO).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here