It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where my experience with dengue began, but I’m fairly sure it was somewhere in southern Cambodia, and I am so, so glad I wasn’t alone when it happened.
I’d been travelling around India and South East Asia for a few months and had dealt with one or two weird viruses and bugs, but nothing big enough to really knock me out for more than a day or so. It’s funny because everyone warns you about food poisoning and malaria, so you get shots, buy a lifetime supply of Doxycycline and get all picky about where and what you eat, but it won’t necessarily stop you from getting sick. Not once did I think I’d get dengue.
It began when I was in Hoi An, Vietnam trying to go to sleep, and my arms and legs started to ache. It started off pretty mild, but as the night went on, it worsened until it felt like my limbs were on fire and I had this pulsing headache behind my eyes. Painkillers didn’t even help a little bit.
I kept trying to close my eyes and ignore the burning sensation ripping through my limbs, but I felt so alert and acutely aware of the pain that I lay there all night – eyes open, in pain, and confused.
I vividly remember coming to the realisation at about 6am that it definitely wasn’t going away, and that my ability to deal with it was dwindling.
By the time I woke Chris up, I was in a state. I had no idea what was going on, I must have been exhausted but I still felt wide-awake, and since I rarely lose my appetite when I’m sick, I was starving. The pain in my muscles and behind my eyes had also escalated, and moving around was really difficult. Chris went and got me some food and a thermometer, Googled my symptoms, realised my temperature was almost at 39-degrees, and took me to Pacific Hospital.
It looked like a scene from MASH.
The doctor said it wasn't malaria, but was probably dengue, which he could do nothing about, so sent me home with some super-painkillers that worked a whole lot better than the ones I had.
We continued to travel down the coast of Vietnam toward Ho Chi Minh, but it was April (the hottest part of the year) and being outside in the heat and bright light made me feel delirious. I struggled to be outside for more than an hour or so and was too exhausted to see or do anything. If I didn’t take another painkiller after five-ish hours the headaches would start again, and my muscles still ached – it was a sad time to be alive.
It took a bit more than two-weeks to get back to normal (which is better than most – it can take some people more than a year), and I really think it had a lot to do with huge quantities of rest. I didn’t push myself to see sites, go to markets, or traipse around temples at all.
In a way, I do feel like I missed out a bit, but dengue is one of those things that will completely run you down if you don’t look after yourself – there are loads of stories about people who continued adventuring as normal, and end up much sicker for longer with weakened immune systems after an experience with dengue.
When I think about it like that, I’m really glad I slept.
What You Need To Know:
I didn’t get sick for about a year after my experience with dengue, not even a cold. While the virus doesn't reemerge years later, like malaria, you can contract it again.
There are four different strands of the virus. You can be re-infected by a mosquito with a different strand, which you do not want. If you get dengue once, it can range from relatively mild to fatal. If you get it again, your risk of death increases and you should go straight to hospital. They can’t cure you, but they can hydrate you and keep an eye on your white blood cells and platelets – World Nomads explain this pretty well.
Symptoms can be mistaken for the flu, which means you can go on with life completely unaware that you really need to actively avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. If you’ve been infected, you’ll have a couple of the following:
- High temperature
- Severe headache
- Pain behind the eyes
- Joint and muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Generally feeling unwell
- Skin rash
- Mild bleeding/easy bruising
Want to avoid it altogether?
Bathe in insect repellant.