It was the worst I’d ever felt, and it wasn’t going away. Every day I was getting some new symptom, but I questioned, was just the stress of traveling solo in India? It wasn’t stress.
It was Dengue Fever.
It took me two weeks to know I had it, and by then I was almost in the clear. I could have been seriously worse because REST is the most important step to recovery- not trekking mountains. As a nurse, I was trying to self-diagnose and was failing miserably as well as talking myself into thinking it was just an allergy, or all in my head. I was Facebooking doctors I knew from home and we were all playing and losing a guessing game. The symptoms for dengue are unusual, but once you have had it you would never misdiagnose again. Although there are many vaccinations travelers need, there is none for dengue fever yet. In case you’ve come across this post from googling, fear not I’m going to help you and because this is such a serious topic I’m going to make if fun with gifs. It was supposed to be one gif, but tumblr led me down a rabbit hole, whoops.
Dengue Fever Symptoms
Symptom 1 // Fever.
I’m talking an insanely hot fever– insane as in; you’ll hallucinate a little. Insane as in you’ll be completely delirious. It’ll happen the day of or day after you get bit by a mosquito carrying the disease. For me, that was in Delhi at a metro stop. This is the first and most harsh of the Dengue fever symptoms. I was couchsurfing with a local Indian man and was lied to about sleeping on the floor next to him. I was a little too delirious to deal! I couldn’t sleep all night and kept saying, “I’m dying”. I thought he’d drugged me. As soon as the sun rose I snuck out and met up with a French girl I was planning to go to the mountains with. I told her I was feeling really sick and she took care of me at my bitchiest, but probably thought, “Oh great, she’s going to be a blast to travel with!”
Symptom 2 // Blasting Migraine.
I’d never had a migraine before and this was intense. I couldn’t see without feeling the pain from my eyes all way to the back of my head. I thought, ok this is a side effect from either a drug or I’ve drank bad water (as the nausea was coming on as well), leading me to symptom 3.
Symptom 3 // Nausea.
Chloe and I headed north after a serious argument with a scamming train ticket office (I was so sick and tired I could have slapped this man!). We finally got a bus to Shimla. It was a big ascent into the mountains and my migraine was intensifying, as well as my nausea. I thought “hmm, I’ve never been car sick before, but I guess I am now! Must be something you get with age.” The windy mountain roads had me convinced. So I bought and took Dramamine (my little medical travel kit was not well-stocked for this month of illness).
Symptom 4 // Tiny dotted rash on whole body, but especially hands and feet.
This is a telltale sign. Once combined with the other symptoms doctors in India can be fairly certain what the test results will show. The nurse in me was like, “I don’t need a doctor”, I decided the headache was from the altitude change, nausea was car-sickness, and NOW I’m even allergic to Dramamine! I was having bad luck (and in pretty serious denial).
Symptom 5 // Stomach problems.
You know the ones I mean. Worse than the fact I basically had to live in a bathroom, I was getting cramps so severe; they would bring me to tears. Unfortunately I still had an appetite or I probably could have saved myself some pain. This ended up going on for three weeks.
Symptom 6 // Bruising, red dots on back, legs, arms & bloody nose or stools
The petechia was when I started to worry. I was doing a lot of walking, hiking, and was on the move daily. It was about a week since the fever and I wasn’t feeling any better. I thought I saw bruises on my back and maybe more rash and asked Chloe, but we both weren’t sure what was going on.
We’d gone from Shimla, to Sarahan where we were stranded in November snow, to Manali, Kullu, and finally McLeod Ganj when I sought help at a local hospital. They diagnosed me with likely dengue. There were two western doctors there who said without a doubt, I had it. I decided not to take the dengue blood test and save money. What did it matter at that point anyway? They had already done a test showing my platelets were low. They said there was no cure and I had to wait it out and stop traveling or head back to Delhi for a platelet transfusion, and I was like, “umm, no to the first and no way to the second!”
This was the first I’d heard of Dengue Fever. I didn’t know what it was. No one wants to hear “NO CURE” or “TRANSFUSION”. I’ve given plenty of people blood transfusions when I worked as a nurse, always telling them it’s no big deal, but once on the receiving end it becomes pretty scary. I really felt lost, pretty scared, and really sick. Chloe and I decided to stay a full nine days in McLeod Ganj. We met a holistic doctor who said he could “diagnose just by looking at someone”. He looked at me and said, “You’re in perfect health, maybe a little tired from travel.” Ha, this was the day before I found out I had dengue and he was most likely a sham. When we traveled by bus to Agra, and I felt so sick still that when we got off the bus I cried and cried… At this point it was the stomach cramps that were unbearable. I felt like something very serious was happening. Chloe and I went our separate ways here as she was headed to Nepal. I resisted the urge to curl up on the side of the street.
credit the frisky
About 2 days later when I finally got off an overnight train in Varanasi on my own, I was beat. I took a bicycle rickshaw to the hospital and told the guy I’m not feeling well. He seemed certain I looked like I was dying and raced to the hospital, insisting on walking me inside. They finally confirmed I had dengue and gave me a stern lecture for staying on the move after being told not to.
Basically, in the time Dengue was at it’s strongest; my immune system had gotten too low to be out doing what I was. I had bacteria and infections galore and I was told by 3 western doctors and the head Indian one I needed to stay at least three days in hospital for treatment. They wanted to start me on IV antibiotics immediately.
credit the frisky
I really felt like trying oral antibiotics would be best before resorting to IV ones. I took fluids because I was dehydrated and had lost 15 pounds in that time. This is when I finally called my parents for help, from the MD’s office phone. I told them I felt seriously fucked up and wasn’t sure what to do. They thought I should stay at the hospital, but as the MD gave me about 2 minutes to decide, I left. I took 6 different medications that finally helped me. The MD wrote them for me, saying under his breathe, “You’ll be back, sicker than you are now”. But luckily, he was wrong. I survived!
“I’m a survivor (what!) keep on survivin’!” credit: tumblr
In the end, after IV’s and multiple doctor visits, cab rides to hospitals, tests, and medications I still didn’t spent enough to meet the travel medical insurance deductible I had with World Nomads. India has extremely affordable care.
FYI, I do recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance while traveling in case something worse happens (A friend spent 1,000 USD in India on a kidney infection).
IF YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM ME, LEARN THIS: You cannot just take antibiotics broad-spectrum in India. The bacteria are too strong and some are too rare especially being exposed to them for the first time. Each chemist and MD will try you on different ones but you MUST, seriously MUST have a stool sample done to find out exactly what you have in regards to not only Dengue, but any other stomach problems/UTI, or anything really. That’s why I won’t share what I took because it wasn’t to cure the Dengue; it was for what bacteria I’d picked up along the way. Dengue is a virus with no cure. Don’t be tricked into taking medication you don’t need. The right antibiotics are imperative to quick recover here. Insist on one. You really must anyways to make sure you don’t have blood in your stools.
Is Dengue fatal?
It can be, but in most cases is not. Some people who let their platelets drop too low (these are what help your blood to clot) can die from internal bleeding leading to changes in your heart rate and blood pressure, and eventually shock. I knew from having been a nurse that I didn’t NEED a transfusion, but if you’re told you need one- you really ought to take them up on it. Go to a larger hospital with more resources to get the transfusion, its fine if that means you have to travel a few hours. Most likely, you’ll have a miserable 1-3 weeks and then it’ll be over and done with. The more you rest and recover the quicker it’ll be over and the less other problems you’ll gain, like I did. Dengue Fever has a peak, which is different in everyone, but averages around 7 days. Once you’ve passed that you’re most likely in the clear for any bleeding issues and your platelet count will go back up. I’ve actually met quite a lot of people who have had dengue. Some got transfusions in Delhi (at the same time I was sick- they had an epidemic last year), some just laid in bed for a week and it passed. It is quite prevalent in some areas, but is not to be treated like a flue as many Indians do malaria; it’s much more serious.
What happens after you recover from Dengue?
There are four strains of Dengue. The MD’s didn’t conclusively tell me which strain I had. One type is seen way more often than the others and once you have it you cannot get that strain again. As for the other less frequent strains people are less likely to get, if you’ve have one type, and acquire another- your symptoms will be much more intense and doctors warned me that you have a much higher chance of that being fatal. Luckily, these strains are rarely seen.
In conclusion… REST!
If you find yourself with these symptoms: pay the money to get a true dengue test done, or if not available at least find out your RBC and platelet count. Follow your doctor’s advice. Rest and hydrate.
This is one of the only times I’d advise someone to STOP TRAVELING. If you continue to travel like I did while having dengue, you will be miserable for a much longer time and put yourself at risk for complications. If you’ve searched this because you have dengue, know that other people have been there and soon there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and you’ll feel better!
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The is a band in the L.A. area named Dengue Fever. I love their music and it resembles Indian music but their lead singer is Cambodian.
haha that’ so interesting!
Yes! They used to play them on KCRW all the time (I’m not from LA- I just like that radio station!).
You article was really interesting and helpful. 4 days in to a suspected Dengue Fever and it made me laugh also.
Excuse me being candid you are are very stupid lol, in a nice way, you should have got help sooner, but my respect for your travelling passion out weighs that, fair play.
Wow, I can’t believe that you managed to keep travelling for so long! I have a few friends who have contracted dengue (one of the hazards of living in Vietnam for 3 years), and their symptoms have ranged from relatively mild to chronic. One friend could barely move for about 4 weeks when she had it – they don’t call it ‘break-bone fever’ for nothing. She was almost flown to Bangkok for an emergency transfusion, but thankfully her platelets recovered the day she was supposed to go.
You are right about how dengue is easy to identify once you have experienced or seen it. Another friend came to visit us in Vietnam when he was travelling around SE Asia, he arrived at the door clutching his chest because his ‘…ribs hurt…’, and that he felt sick. He thought he had food poisoning. His skin was flushed and we told him straight away that he had dengue, it was confirmed by a doctor that afternoon.
Great article that offers practical advice about a condition that could easily be mistaken for food poisoning, hangover etc… amongst travellers. It is very common in Vietnam and Cambodia, it’s good that people know about it.
Yeah, because it’s easily mistaken and travelers are hungover and getting food poisoning a lot- no one wants to jump to such a bad conclusion and seem like a wuss. But like you said, once you know the signs you’ll never forget!
Will there be any residual effects once you recover from Dengue? Sounds scary! Btw just connected on Twitter as well – love your site! India is cool!
No i don’t think there are residual effects once you’ve recovered. It was a little scary at times but so glad that its said and done!
Is there a way to prevent Dengue?
no, not yet :(
Rachel, that sounds awful. You’re such a trooper. Also – absolutely loved your gifs. You killed it. Like a boss. :)
I got a little gif obsessed. like I”m not even sure if it’s legal to use gifs by just crediting the source- but I was so excited I Just kept adding more.
Oh no, Dengue! I believe that I had the least severe strain (#1) during my first year living in Mumbai. It was never diagnosed though, and by the time I realised I had it I was almost recovered. My main symptoms were terrible fever and feeling like I had the flu… not getting better…and then the rash. It was the rash that convinced me of what it was. I’ve also survived getting malaria in Mumbai (although that was quickly diagnosed and treated). The joys of India.
The joys of India! haha. The rash is definitely a tell-tale sign. I’m glad you got all better :)
I am flabbergasted; I know most people won’t die from this but I just can’t stop thinking about how bad this really could have gotten!
I’m very glad you recovered though. And I think this is a great post as there will be some unfortunate travellers who get disease with big scary names despite doing everything right. I’d imagine if somebody Googled dengue fever and found this post they would feel very comforted.
I hope they feel that way! As long as the person rests (and spends time reading my blog haha) they will recover fine! It’s the being out getting banged around on hikes that will cause potential problems. Thanks for reading!
Really glad you made it through this ok Rachel. This is a really informative post. And I loved the gifs! :-)
Thanks. I knew it was a bit over the top informative so tried to spice it up a bit! Dengue is such a hellish thing to get
Glad you were ok! I know that dengue isn’t fatal most of the time and I’m very healthy but the thought of getting it still makes me very nervous and I’ll probably cover myself galore with bug spray whenever i travel to areas where it’s known for.
that’s best to help prevent getting it. Even though it’s not fatal, it’s very painful and can ruin a trip abroad!
I was bitten by the Dengue mosquito a few times, but lucky enough to have a brutally strong immune system. While in Koh Lanta – Thailand, during the hot and rainy season, everyone around me was getting sick with Dengue. I was probably the person with the most ridiculous amounts of mosquito bites though. There were jokes going on in the hostel, that for as long I was staying there, all mosquitoes would bite me and not the rest of the guests. I was lucky and decided to leave early.
Dengue is very scary, I’m glad you recovered. I’ve heard of cases of people dying of it.
Wow, you are lucky! I am glad you dodged that bullet. Because it’s a mean horrible one! I too have heard of people dying from it here in India, and feel quite blessed that I was okay considering I kept on traveling intensely.
Haha. I love this. Since I’ve been living in Southeast Asia ANYTIME i feel remotely ill/get a mosquito bite/am near gross looking still water… I automatically assume DENGUE is coming and I will soon perish. Bit dramatic, but it’s my greatest fear!!
hahaha it’s a realistic fear! It’s literally the worst thing I’ve gone through.
OMG I can’t believe you kept going! Good thing it all ended up OK. It’s so scary to be sick when you’re traveling by yourself. Also love the Snooki gif :)
Haha you are surely the only person other than me who liked the Snookie gif lol, I couldn’t help myself! and you’re right being sick and alone is the worst.
Love the humor you’ve injected into what was probably a very scary situation! I was always afraid of contracting dengue while traveling in Asia which is why I reeked to high heaven of DEET the whole time :-)
This is so dumb of me, but I packed DEET spray and got rid of it along with other items I hadn’t used because I hadn’t seen any mozzies! Boo, my dumb luck!
That must have been really tough on you. So good to hear that you recovered but that is not the best way to deal with Dengue.
Yeah, it’s just about the worst way :) Lesson Learned.
I feel your pain! I caught Dengue in India and it was not a nice experience! It isn’t nicknamed breakbone fever for nothing! It is ALWAYS worth keeping up with mosquito prevention.
I literally have never heard this saying breakbone fever, but you are not the only commenter to say that! I am so bad about bug spray :(
Wow you really are a trooper! I love your post, although I am sorry what you went through! I came down with a 103 fever, stomach issues and migraine my last day in Cambodia and was convinced it was Dengue or Malaria or something sketchy. I was in the airport bathroom all day waiting for our 10 pm flight. Just miserable! I never got the rash and it cleared up within a few days though, so I presume it was just the flu but I still cried like a baby. Not sure how you kept going feeling so terrible!
Sometimes the flu can be really bad though, depends what strain you have! I’m glad it passed. Airports and flights are the worst when you’re sick :/
Hey Rachel! I was really glad to come across this post you wrote…I too am a nurse :) about to travel to India for a year or so. I caught a strain of dengue fever a few years ago in Thailand and have been super nervous about the risks of catching a different strain. It definitely makes me feel better to see someone like you who continues to travel around the high-risk dengue areas in Asia anyway!
Yeah, I mean from what I’ve read it’s like basically 2% chance that someone will catch the other strains. AND even if so, I think that will quick medical care it would be treatable. Keep travelin’!
OMG, you poor dear! Dengue is awful. Awful! I’m so sorry you picked it up, and in the middle of an unfamiliar place as well. My husband had dengue when he was a child and said that it was the single worst, sickest experience he’s ever had (he was hospitalised and put on IV fluids for several days), and he has traveled a lot and managed to pick up quite a few serious things since then. It’s possible to get dengue in the Philippines as well, where I lived, and though I never got it, there were a few times when I got a mosquito bite or several and thought “ugh, here we go”. Your treatment is exactly what I heard from MDs there – rest, hydrate, and rest some more. Get a transfusion if they decide you need one, and just take it really slow for several weeks.
Oh your poor husband, it must be so much worse as a kid.
I hear ya!
I had a brutal 2 weeks of surviving Dengue Fever in Vietnam. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I didn’t go to the Dr., only to the nearby pharmacist, I was so certain that hospitals in Vietnam were 3rd world and I didn’t want to go near them (we were one month into our very first trip, we’ve since learned that’s not the case!)
the body aches, the lack of energy, the fever, migraine, everything was awful. I wonder how you managed to travel when all I could think about was sleep and dying!
Glad you’re ok :)
It really was sooo painful! Wouldn’t wish it on an enemy. Luckily at least I was up north and not in a hot area like Vietnam, I feel like that would make it even worse.
Ahh! I can’t believe you kept traveling when you were that sick! I would have definitely taken a little breather. I’ve gotten sick a few times in China, and it’s scary. Especially since I don’t have a medical background, and I’m not fluent enough in Chinese to know what’s going on. I was only lucky enough to see a Chinese-American doctor in Beijing, who spoke English and could explain to me what was going on, but in Ningbo where I live now, I have to google the medication’s scientific name to know what I’m taking. It is nice to have such cheap healthcare though! I went to the hospital overnight with food poisoning. The emergency room bed, doctor visit, medication and an IV was a combined total of $30 USD!
How great you found a doctor you could communicate with. Isn’t food poisoning just the worst!?
Hi Rachel, I’m a UK journalist (also called Rachel!) looking for someone to speak about surviving Dengue Fever for a magazine piece. Please get in touch so I can explain more info. Thanks in advance. Rachel
Hi Rachel, I’ve e-mailed you.
I’d love to see this finished article if possible? I’m wondering now since about a year has passed if anyone is still experiencing after effects of the dengue??
I contracted in the Philipines November last year and I’m still having a rough time. I’d love to speak with anyone else with similar experiences and perhaps share advice on how to manage day to day living and functioning post infection :)
I didn’t have any long term effects
Hi Erin: Email me and I’ll share my experience with dengue and treatment methods. I have used some health food remedies which helped a grwat deal.
Whoa. I have friends who have had break-bone/ dengue fever. They were laid out flat by the pain. Practically blowing out your immune system and picking up those “opportunistic” nasties could have finished you off, seriously. What I’ve learned by my own experiences with tropical illnesses (including falciparum malaria, twice): TRUST THE LOCAL MDs. They have lots of experience with these maladies … and more; they know what they’re doing. And, as you learned, the cost of excellent care is comparatively very inexpensive. Conversely, I have a friend from a West African country who almost died during a visit to the US (about 20 years ago) because oh-so-wise doctors in the US refused to believe he had malaria, even though he knew what he had!
You’re SO right. Trusting the local MD’s the the FIRST thing to do and many travelers are afraid to do so
OMG! i just had dengue this month and I wish I had read this post earlier. It would have saved time and a lot of metal stress. People were scaring the life out of me left, right and center. Initially I thought it was no big deal and I’ll get out of it, but thanks to everybody, I lost my zen. I mean I lay one whole night in bed, sweating and thinking I am going to die. After having dengue I can say it’s actually no biggie; you just have to take rest and stay away from people who insist that you are dying!
Yeah, I feel ya, people basically told me I would die! lol glad you are feeling bettter!
You are lucky to have survived Dengue. Many in India die due to lack of proper diagnosis and treatment on time. As I am writing this, there is reports of over hundreds dying in Mumbai and other cities.
Well, prevention is better than cure. All you foreigners should keep a few items to prevent mosquito bites while travelling. There is a cream called Odomos which is quite handy and very effective. You can buy those mosquito repellent devices – it vapourizes the chemical which acts as a repellent. GoodKnight or AllOut are famous brands which is available in any super market or roadside general store. Plug it in any hotel where you are staying and it will prevent bites. Remember to keep it on during day times as well; as most of these disease causing mosquitoes bite during the day.
Recently there is a band which has been introduced that can be put on your wrist. I am not sure how effective it is but it claims to repel mosquitoes within 10 – 15 feet radius from you. It is a cool product especially for kids and girls for it comes in several different colors.
Then there are these sprays or aerosols (HIT) which you can buy from any local market. It gives an awful smell but it kills them mosquitoes instantly. There is also battery operated mosquito killer which looks like a tennis racquet. It looks funny to use but is useful if you are staying in a forest area where the mosquitoes are just too much.
Hey Rachel, you’re lucky you weren’t hit during the rainy season here in Southeast Asia. Specifically in the Philippines, Dengue Fever has one of the highest death toll rates in the past two decades. Literally, in the wet season when the storm comes hundreds die in here because of that specific disease like a plague.
Wow that’s really sad :(
Hi! I just came across your post.
I’m currently suffering from dengue fever I contracted in Guatemala last week.
I’ve beem extremely fortunate to have the mild version so far.
It started with a sudden fever (not too high, 39) and a severe headache and some typical musclepain that one can experience with fever.
Day 2 my fever didn’t go over 38.2 and the headache was almost gone. This is the day the famous pain in the joints and bones started. Still no rashes.
Day 3, no more fever, just severe pain in the lower back, knees and shoulders. Still no rash.
Day 4 is when I got my period on top of it and decided to do a platelet test. Result was 117k, too low. Besides that I felt great, like nothing was wrong with me. Today, day 5, I still feel good, just extremely exhausted.
Tomorrow I have to go for another platelet test, so I am curious for the result.
I think I have been one of the lucky ones that doesn’t feel so bad.
It sounds like you’ve been very lucky! That’s great. I hope that you continue to feel even better :D
With more than one-third of the world’s population living in areas at risk for infection, dengue virus is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. One must know the signs and symptoms of dengue fever. Thank you for sharing. This is very informative. Keep it up!
Tell me about it.. i know how did you feel then as i experienced this freakin fever in Kenya and it was tragic.
So sorry you got sick. It’s a horrible feeling, Dengue!
Do you think malrone could have helped?
Malrone is for malaria, it wouldn’t work on Dengue. There’s no prevention/cure/treatment for Dengue yet.
i’m just back from indonesia, hospitalized there for 4 days with a bad case of dengue. initially thought maybe flu or something, self-medicated from the local pharmacy and rested up because i was in java to see the sulphur mine at kawah ijen. tried the hike that night (not overly difficult on a normal night) & wound up horribly ill, vomiting on the way up, sweating like a madman, etc. took an excruciating full day of travel to get to a good hospital in bali and that’s where i was immediately taken to the ER, put on IVs, etc.
looking back it was an interesting time, neither good or bad, just an experience to be had. but i consider myself somewhat lucky to have not contracted the more serious version while traveling far from good medical care. and thank god for good travel insurance! a $38 policy w/ $100 deductible saved me about $2000.
curious to see how it goes now as its been 10 days since my hospitalization and i’m constantly exhausted, unable to go back to work, etc.
Good think you’re insurance saved you on the money! I hope that you start to feel better – it can take a lot of time so just take it easy!
Got a fairly mild case of Dengue in Guatemala, knew immediately what it was because I met a woman in a hostel who had been diagnosed with it. I just went to bed for 4 days in a nice hostel in Cancun, Mexico, drank bottled water, and slept through it. I was lucky but then, I’m 70 years old and travel for extended periods of time. If I don’t feel well, I don’t do anything. Just sleep and let people around me know I don’t feel well. Local people always know what you have, especially viruses from mosquitos. Was in Belize right after their breakout of Zika. The local grandmothers knew ALL the signs of Zika. Talk to local people; you don’t always need a doctor in 3rd world countries or parts of the world where viruses are epidemic.
Thank you, Rachel for the post!! Sorry, you had to go through this. Is it OK to take paracetamol (tylenol) to reduce the fever or not? (just asking)
It should be okay, yes. Ibuprofen, though, or other NSAIDS I wouldn’t think would be a good idea! Definitely no Aspirin!
Hey rachel! love this blog :) so very many useful tips thanks.
Do you know where you got the dengue fever from? Perhaps any tips for prevention 0.0″
Im heading over to india in may! :D
Thank you so much for this post. I’m currently traveling in Taiwan and started feeling sick the next night after a mosquito bite in Kaohsiung. I was panicking about Dengue until reading your post. It gave me peace of mind and an idea of what to do if I do have it.
I hope you start to feel better – it can be really draining so best to just rest up.
Rachel – I was travelling with my sister who was sick with a cold, and I felt sick from this morning. I assumed it was the cold. That said, dengue is going around here – in Sri Lanka, and after my fever rose today to epic propotions and I started getting pains (muscles, hips, that kinda thing) I remembered that I’d been sporting a headache the last two days – I’d attributed it to stress. I don’t want to worry my mom tonight, if I’m still sick tomorrow, I’ll take myself to the hospital. This is the worst I’ve felt with a fever though. I hope I make it.
I hope you feel better and it’s not dengue, but if you are still feeling ill, go get blood drawn and find out.
Also, I love the gifs/memes, they couldn’t explain how I feel better