Unlike other outbreaks of dengue fever in the past, the current increase in cases, not only in Barbados and the Caribbean but also in India, Singapore, and other tropical countries, has come at a time when the world is battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people have also had both illnesses at the same time.
One such patient told Barbados TODAY about her experience in January this year. “I was on sick leave with dengue from January 2 this year when I heard that someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 had come into my workplace shortly before that. I got tested for COVID-19 and that test came back positive.
“Now, I don’t know if the dengue symptoms got magnified because of COVID. I had a very high fever, chills, and body aches, which is common to both conditions, but beyond that, my platelets were low; in fact, I was almost dying, they even wanted to admit me to the hospital at one stage. That is how serious it was. I drank a lot of fluids and took multi-symptom tablets to break the fevers and so on and that helped. I have had dengue twice before, but this one was more severe so I do not know whether that was because I had COVID as well.”
Public Relations Officer with the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP), Dr Russell Broome-Webster, said at the present time, it was important for doctors to carefully test any patient who presented to them with a febrile condition. “To be honest, it can be virtually impossible to distinguish between the two, so testing is important in the initial stages. Patients with both conditions can present with a fever, as well as other issues like acute psychosis, abdominal pains, vomiting, etc. A patient can present to the doctor with a fever but then they will have to be monitored as their condition progresses before the doctor can make a final diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment. Ideally, there should be diagnostic testing available for both conditions but access to testing may make matters more complicated.”
The website thehealthline.com breaks down the differences between the two conditions in this way.
Like COVID-19, dengue fever is also a viral illness, the major difference being it is a mosquito-borne disease. A dengue patient usually develops symptoms four to six days after infection and these symptoms last for up to 10 days. Dengue is suspected if you have a sudden high fever (40°C/104°F) accompanied by two of the following symptoms: Severe headache; pain behind the eyes; severe joint and muscle pain; fatigue; nausea; vomiting; a skin rash, which appears two to five days after the onset of fever; mild bleeding (such as nose bleeds, bleeding gums, or easy bruising); and swollen glands).
Severe dengue is a potentially fatal complication that occurs normally about three to seven days after illness onset. It can lead to plasma leaking, fluid accumulation, respiratory distress, severe bleeding, or organ impairment. Warning signs associated with severe dengue can manifest when the fever starts dropping (below 38°C/100°F) in the patient. Warning signs of severe dengue include severe abdominal pain; persistent vomiting; rapid breathing; bleeding gums; fatigue; restlessness and blood in vomit. Patients who get to this stage must be admitted to health care facilities and carefully monitored.
In the case of COVID-19, patients have had a wide range of symptoms reported, ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fever or chills; cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; fatigue; muscle or body aches; headache; loss of taste or smell; sore throat; congestion or runny nose; nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Around one out of every six people who get COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Some people may develop more severe forms of the disease, such as pneumonia. If you have fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, you should seek medical attention.
This article appears in the April 1 edition of Focus on Dengue. Read the full publication here.