When Prateek came home with a fever of 103 F, his parents started panicking. They knew that some of his classmates had fallen ill with dengue. They had read about the platelet count in the blood falling being dangerous in dengue. So, they felt that keeping an eye on the platelet count should be their priority and rushed the child to the nearest diagnostics to check his platelets.
Being a Paediatric Intensive Care Specialist, I have seen many such cases recently where parents, aware of the epidemic nature of dengue in Bengaluru at present, panic at their child running a temperature. I would like to remind you that dengue is a viral fever and like other viral fevers, it will take between 12 to 14 days to reach the recovery phase. A blood test done in the initial couple of days might not pick up the infection and should be avoided. If the symptoms persist beyond 3 days, the test can be done with the recommendation of a doctor.
Dengue is transmitted only by mosquito bites and not by touch or any other means. This mosquito, Aedes aegyptii, is a daytime mosquito and breeds in clean water reservoirs around our homes. We can reduce the risk of transmission at this stage by making sure that our surroundings are clean and devoid of open water storages. In addition, mosquito repellant cream and clothing which cover the arms and legs while going out to play further reduce the risk of mosquito bites.
Once bitten by an infected mosquito, it takes 5-7 days for the child to start showing symptoms. He might start with a high fever (102 F- 103 F) accompanied by body ache, joint aches, headache and in some cases, vomiting and rashes. This can go on for 2-3 days. At this point, keeping the child hydrated with water, coconut water, juices or soups should be the priority. Taking paracetamol will keep the fever under control. The amount of urine the child passes should also be monitored. If the fever persists after 2-3 days, a doctor should be consulted, and only under the doctor’s recommendation should a test for dengue be done.
Based on the activity level of the child, the doctor might continue to monitor the child on an OPD basis. 90% to 95% of the children start their slow recovery process after this. Extreme fatigue is a very usual symptom at this stage.
In 5% – 10% of the cases, the dengue may proceed onto the next stage, where the child gets worse once the fever subsides. At this point, the child may have difficulty in beathing, a drastic drop in platelets, bleeding from the nose or gums, low urine output and cold hands and feet. If the disease progresses to this critical phase, the child will need admission in the hospital.
Once the critical phase is taken care of, the child will move on to the recovery phase. Now his platelet counts will start increasing and his appetite will start improving. He might pass a lot of urine to remove all the fluid that had accumulated in the body. Although he might still feel very tired, he is now on his way to recovery.
We all have to be aware that prevention is better than cure and take measures to ensure that there are no breeding grounds for mosquitoes near our houses and schools. Another important thing is to not panic and self-diagnose or self-test for dengue. Platelets are not the only indicator of a severe disease. Please consult a doctor and follow their recommendations without fail. Dengue is a viral disease which will take its course before recovery begins.