Did I Dengue or Did I Not?

It’s the rainy summer season in Tonga and that means not only lots of heat and rain, but also lots of mosquitoes.   Recently the Peace Corps advised all of the volunteers to be especially careful because of an increase in the number of cases of Dengue Fever in Tonga.

In case you don’t know, Dengue is a tropical illness that causes a high fever and a rash.  It is transmitted by mosquitoes and is nicknamed “Bone Break Fever” because when you have it, you feel like every bone in your body is breaking.  (See Wikipedia for more information)

I also heard that if you think you have Dengue, you probably don’t.  If you think you are going to die, then you probably have Dengue.  There is no treatment for Dengue, other than to treat the symptoms.  It will usually run its course in a week to 10 days.

A week ago today, I started to feel sick.  At first, I thought I might just be tired from staying out too late on Monday night saying good-bye to Jessica.   I left work early on Tuesday and slept from 1pm until 7am the next morning.  I had no energy and ate only a few things.   By Wednesday, I knew something was wrong.   I had a fever, my joints were killing me and I had no appetite.  I also was constantly thirsty and was drinking lots of water.    I contacted our Peace Corps Medical staff on the main island who advised that I had the early symptoms of Dengue Fever.

By Thursday, my fever was at 100.2 degrees and my joint aches only got worse.   In addition to the fever, I was having chills.  I did not eat at all on Thursday.   Thursday night I spent alternating between taking cold showers to cool down to dressing up in a warm-up suit and burying myself under layers of blankets to stay warm.   On Friday, with the exception of having really sore eye sockets, I felt better and Friday afternoon, I actually got out of bed and sat on the sofa to watch a movie.   I was feeling better and thought the worst was over.   Apparently this is one of the “tricks” of Dengue.  It makes you think you are better, then it kicks you down again.  That’s exactly what happened.

I went to bed Friday night and was shaking so badly that I felt like I was having convulsions.  I was barely able to stand and debated whether I should go to the hospital or not.  However, knowing Tongan medical care, I decided that all they would do is give me some Panadol (Tylenol) and send me home, so I opted not to go.    Probably less than an hour later, I was sweating so badly, I had to go take another cold shower.

By Saturday afternoon, my fever broke and I started to feel better.    On Sunday I started eating again and Sunday afternoon, I walked out the door of my house for the first time in more than four days feeling like my old self.

So did I have Dengue?  I actually don’t think so.   I never got a rash, which is a classic sign of Dengue and the duration of my sickness was a lot shorter than most people experience.   If I did have Dengue, there is a positive sign…it means I can’t get it again, or at least not the same strain. 

I think it is more likely that I caught some other kind of tropical fever.   There is a blood test you can take to see if you have been exposed to dengue, but that seems like a moot point.

And a special thanks to James, who stayed with me and took care of me while I was sick.  It’s great to have good friends like him and my other volunteers who called to check on me.

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