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Most People Go to Bali to Eat, Pray, Love. I Went and Got Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever.

Here's everything you need to know about Dengue Fever.

After dreaming about jetting off to Bali for years, it finally happened. I’d quit my job, packed up my life, planned my itinerary, said goodbye to my friends and family, and embarked on the trip of a lifetime. I chose Bali so I could take in the beautiful lush island, slow down my life, and spend mornings at the beach doing yoga and drinking coconut water. And for two weeks, my life there felt like a dream.

Until the morning I woke up with chills.

Chills quickly turned into a pounding headache, loss of appetite, and the inability to even walk out of pure exhaustion. I spent the next two days resting, hydrating, and taking it easy. By the third day, I realized my fever hadn’t broken despite taking pain relievers around the clock. Soon more symptoms set in: blurry vision and extreme back pain. That’s when I finally made the choice to go to a clinic where I was diagnosed with dengue fever.

What Is Dengue Fever?

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne infection affecting upwards of 400 million people annually. It’s most common in tropical and subtropical countries in urban areas. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever can vary for each individual, and some can experience really mind or severe symptoms. Other times, it can be severe, requiring hospitalization; it can even be fatal.

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If symptoms present, it’s usually four to six days after infection and can last for over a week. Common symptoms include high fever, nausea, vomiting, rash, muscle and joint pain, and pain behind the eyes. A skin rash can occur twice during the disease progression. An uncomfortable rash can occur during the infection’s early days and during recovery.

When to Seek Help

Five hours after I left the clinic, I noticed bleeding when I went to the toilet. Shortly after, I experienced bleeding when I brushed my teeth and when I vomited. I looked up the nearest hospital with a good reputation and reviews indicating English speakers. I was admitted an hour later with hemorrhagic dengue fever.

Occasionally, dengue fever can become severe, and it’s more common if it’s your second bout with the illness. However, I’d never had dengue fever before–still, I had a severe case. And severe dengue fever symptoms include extreme fatigue, blood in vomit or stool, bleeding nose or gums, vomiting, and pale and cold skin.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Dengue fever is diagnosed with a blood test, so you must go to a healthcare provider for a confirmed diagnosis. There are four strains, and the doctor can identify which strain you have. You can build immunity to the specific strain you have, but you can catch dengue fever another three times.

The tricky part about it is that there aren’t any medications that treat it. The only way to do so is to manage your symptoms, which includes staying hydrated as much as possible, resting, and taking acetaminophen for pain management. In my case, I needed IV fluids to stay hydrated because I was losing a lot of blood. If you experience any bleeding, you should go to the hospital immediately.

Long-Term Effects of Dengue Fever

Five of the most common long-term side effects are hair loss, joint and muscle pain, weight loss, fatigue, and depression. These can last for months or even years. I experienced severe hair loss around four months post-dengue.

Dengue fever is on the rise due to climate change. Make sure you stay protected and take measures to prevent it while traveling. The best ways to do so are to wear insect repellent, wear long clothing, and use nets or coils in areas of high-risk. Only one vaccine in the U.S. exists right now–Dengvaxia–but it is not available for everyone, including anyone using it for travel.

Pamiss October 26, 2023

As a retired nurse I thank you for writing about your personal experience with this disease. You also were very wise to be so cognizant of your body and symptoms and especially looking up the hospitals - you may have saved your own life doing all those things.
I hope you are better. Are you still in Bali? 

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jacketwatch October 22, 2023

I'm glad you had the good sense to look up hospitals with good reputations before you start treatment. It's simply awful to go abroad and then get sick. When we went to India, 1982, I came back very sick. As it turned out, I had typhoid fever and it was really bad. I was hospitalized for two weeks back home in Chicago. My Doctor who is from Pakistan said it's the worst cases ever seen. In time I recovered 100%, but it's awful to get sick when you're on vacation. I hope you are doing well.