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What to expect from dengue fever? – Our real-time experience

Sounds like a depressing topic for a Christmas Day post but I thought of sharing my husband’s experience when he got dengue fever recently while details are still fresh in my mind as this episode had worried both of us out because dengue fever isn’t a small problem as it can be life-threatening if it takes a turn for the worse.

Dengue is something that is unfamiliar to me and my husband before this because we have never had anyone in the family contracting it. Also, we are not living or working within an active cluster and he wasn’t even aware that he was bitten by the Aedes mosquito. No sign of any bite mark or itchiness at all.

I fell ill first last Monday with a sore throat, cough and fever but I self medicated with my usual cough syrup and panadol as I thought my body was just heaty from eating durians & fried stuffs. On Wednesday, John called home from work that he was feeling unwell and feverish so he left work early and came home to rest. His temperature was 39.5 deg C and he looked really exhausted and pale. His skin felt really hot to the touch too.

That night, both of us visited the GP. It appeared as though I had passed the virus to him hence we both fell sick so we were given standard flu medicine. My fever subsided the next day but John didn’t get better.

A brief run-through of his 10-day battle with dengue…

Day 1 & 2: John’s temperature hovered around 39 deg C despite taking paracetamol and using ice packs on his entire face and neck. He wore warm and tried to sweat it out but to no avail.

Day 3: Brought John to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital A&E but doctor advised against taking blood test (to test for dengue) as the result would be inconclusive as it was only the 3rd day so he was given ibuprofen to reduce fever and body pain. He started losing his appetite and could hardly eat anything without feeling nauseous.

Day 4: John’s fever did not subside.

Day 5: Went to the family doctor and took a blood test. His white blood cells and platelet counts were lower than normal. Doctor suspected dengue fever so had to send another tube of blood to the Environmental Health Institute for further confirmation. Developed red rashes all over the body that night.

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Day 6: Doctor called to inform us that John was tested positive for dengue and that the Ministry of Health was to be informed immediately as required by law. But as his platelet count wasn’t at a dangerously low level, he didn’t require hospitalisation but he’d need to do regular blood tests so the doctor could monitor his condition. Skin felt swollen especially near the feet. He couldn’t bend his toes without feeling pain. Rashes looked most red on knees and thighs and felt really itchy.

Day 7: John did his second blood test. White blood cells and platelet count were still low.

Day 8: John did his third blood test. White blood cells were normal. Platelet count was within the lower end of the normal range. Fever finally subsided. Doctor prescribed anti-histamine to stop the itch from the rash. NEA inspector came by for a home check and even issued orders to the nearby construction sites (upgrading works) to have stagnant pools of water cleared up.

Day 10: John did his fourth and final blood test. Full blood count was normal. Rash was almost gone.

Unfortunately, there is no medication for dengue so we can only relieve the symptoms by –

1. Washing face with cold water a few times per day
2. Drinking plenty of ice cold water (at least 2-3 litres)
3. Using ice packs on forehead, neck and the rest of the body a few times per day and just before going to bed at night
4. Taking Chinese cooling water (I bought Three Legs brand 三脚标清热水), green bean soup and freshly brewed chrysanthemum tea everyday
5. Eating porridge (or plain crackers if nauseous)
6. Sleeping in well ventilated room with open windows (no aircon!)
7. Having plenty of rest and sleep
8. Self monitoring body temperature every hour

And leaving it to the body to fight the virus.

Thank God I recovered from my viral fever in time to look after John. I wouldn’t let him do anything in the house in case he cut or scratched himself because his platelet count was low so blood couldn’t clot quickly. When he was asleep at night, I’d keep making sure he was alright and still breathing – yes, that was how paranoid I became.

We wouldn’t have done it without Dr Kevin Koh from The Chung Kiaw Family Practice at Ang Mo Kio Thye Hua Kwan Hospital. Our most trusted family doctor.

Lesson to self: Do not take things for granted. Use insect repellent when out. Always check for traces of stagnant water in bathroom and kitchen. Apparently all it takes is a tiny 20-cent size pool of water for mosquitoes to breed within a week. Prevention is definitely better than cure but in this case, dengue has no cure.

No words can describe my relief and joy when my husband’s fever subsided. My best Christmas gift? Seeing him being back to his normal, healthy self.

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