I Don’t Want Dengue Fever

When a student is absent from class, they usually send me an email to explain why. Occasionally I get emails from students in my microbiology or virology classes explaining their absence from class as a result of some infectious disease and they actually seem excited about the fact that they are hosting a virus. Perhaps they feel that they are participating in the class on a whole new level or are appreciating and understanding what is going on in their body, despite feeling awful. However, I was surprised recently when I mentioned Dengue Fever and a student piped up and said “I’ve had that!” I asked Caitlyn to write about her experience, and she kindly agreed. While she is interested in learning more about the virus, I suspect she would have preferred to learn about it without first hand experience. Here is her story.

Contributed by Caitlyn Anderson ’13

Photos of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Taken by Caitlyn Anderson.

“I was infected with Dengue virus in Cambodia during the summer of 2007 while working as an intern for the Clinton Foundation. I knew before going that there was a Dengue epidemic across the country but was unwilling to give up the opportunity. It is likely that I was bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus while I was sight seeing in Siem Reap towards the end of my stay. The virus incubated within my body for a period of approximately 5 days. Thankfully, I was back on U.S. soil when the virus began to present itself. I remember feeling slightly odd as I worked the night shift at Starbucks. After I returned home I immediately went to bed. In the morning I had developed flu like symptoms with a fever of 100 degrees. My body began to feel achy and I remained in bed throughout the afternoon. By 3:00 pm my temperature had reached 103 degrees and by 5:00 pm, my temperature was up to 104 degrees and I could barely move. My mother immediately called my pediatrician who then instructed us to go to the Emergency Room. I had immense difficulties walking from my bed on the second floor to the car. When we got to Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut, I was unable to walk and required the assistance of a wheel chair. The initial reaction of the emergency room doctor who saw to me first was that I was presenting with Lyme like symptoms. However, the unbearable pain caused by the insertion of the IV into my arm was not indicative of Lyme disease so I was immediately admitted to the hospital for further tests and supportive care. A few hours later my fever had reached 105 degrees and was coupled with the sudden onset of rash covering my entire body. The virus began to affect my nervous system causing extreme skin tenderness. Infectious disease specialists were brought in to evaluate my case. A Haitian doctor was immediately convinced I had Dengue Fever because she had witnessed the disease many times. Unsure of which of the four strains I had been infected with, the doctors could not predict the clinical evolution of the disease.
My fever remained between 103 and 105 degrees for 3 days. I was treated with fluid intravenously and pain medication for my body aches and severe skin sensitivity. My body was packed with ice in an effort to lower my body temperature. While Dengue Fever is commonly referred to as “breakbone fever” because people often feel as if there bones are being crushed, I did not experience this sensation. My skin, rather than my bones and joints, was the greatest cause of my discomfort. On day 4 of my hospital stay, my fever began to go down to 100 degrees but I was transitioned to the telemetry unit so that my heart could be monitored more closely. I continued to receive IV fluids and pain medication. I remained in the telemetry unit until day 6 when I was moved to a general ward where I remained until my release from the hospital on day 8. My fever had completely dissipated but I was very weak and had trouble walking. When I returned home I slept for 16 hours a day for about a week and was able to return to school a few days later with a reduced academic schedule. About a month later I regained my strength was symptom-free.”