I’ve got the fever

Don't mess with Dengue

Words: Lee Tulloch

I would be in beautiful Cambodia right now, except my doctor forbade me to go.

It’s all about a nasty little striped mosquito called the Aedes aegypti, which carries the dengue fever virus, and is active in the current wet season in South East Asia.

The little blighter loves me, as do all mosquitos. I’m the person you want to sit next to at a picnic, because I’m the feast – and an effective mosquito repellent for everyone else around the table. I’ve never been able to work out why I’m so tasty (Warm skin? Too much perfume?) But no amount of taking Vitamin B or covering up seems to distract them from their mission. They’d bite me through a leather jacket I believe.  I’m not flattered.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito that bit me in Tahiti in 1985 has caused me a world of pain. On that trip, my husband and I had decided to go ‘native’ – that is, we’d avoid the big resorts and stay somewhere simpler, literally a grass hut in a coconut plantation. But coconut plantations in the wet season are giant Petri dishes for the breeding of mozzies, especially the aegypti kind, which sneakily bite all the day, unlike most mosquitoes, which only are active at dawn and dusk.

I came down with dengue, although I didn’t know what it was until, after two weeks of violent headaches, fever, and agonising pain (it’s not called ‘break bone fever’ idly), I struggled to the local doctor. He, being French, looked at the rash that covered my body and shrugged disinterestedly ‘Oh, eet’s just the dengue.’

Eet may have just been the dengue for a Tahitian but the truly rotten thing about it for a world traveller is that there are four strains, or serotypes, of the virus. I’m apparently now immune to the Tahitian type (hello Rangiroa!) but still susceptible to the three other strains, which flourish in other regions. What’s worse, it’s extremely dangerous for me to be bitten by one of the others. I’ll develop the hemorrhagic kind of dengue, which is often fatal. I know someone who had it twice and spent four months in hospital having his blood transfused.

The mosquito that bit me in Tahiti in 1985 has caused me a world of pain.

A cheery thought, isn’t it? That’s why I’m completely paranoid in tropical climates, check the health warnings for every country I’m about to visit, and avoid the mosquito season. Even if that’s all clear, you never know when an outbreak might occur, especially in countries with poor dengue eradication.  You’re generally safe at resorts that spray, but you still have to be careful visiting villages and urban areas. Even the airport can be dangerous.

And I have to be wary beyond India, Indonesia and South East Asia. I arrived in Buenos Aires on one occasion to find the city covered in posters warning of a dengue outbreak.

I’m possibly not the best companion at these times. There’s nothing for it, but to smother myself in chemicals and make a halo of repellent around my head and wrists and ankles. (Repel brand has less DEET but is effective.) But it’s all disgusting. Avon sells a product called Skin So Soft, which smells so strong it would repel a crocodile. The famous medicine man of Rarotonga, known to everyone as ‘Pa’, recently recommended to me a herbal hair and body oil called Kumarika, which is sold in the Cook Islands and costs about $2. Like Skin So Soft, it is pungent, so I’m convinced it will work. But I warn you of this if you find yourself sitting next to me at a bar in Bali.

I read last week about the jump in cases in Australia of chikungunya, a mosquito-born virus like Ross River fever or dengue. We have dengue in northern Australia too. But I’m surprised that travellers are so ignorant about it. Protecting against malaria is a major concern for travellers,  whereas dengue has the reputation as being something you get over.  You don’t.

Far be it from me to frighten any of you Luxe Nomads out of your wits or stop you from going to any of the many wonderful destinations in the tropics, even in wet season. My husband is going to Cambodia without me, and the chances of him getting dengue, provided he has the right protection, are probably slim. But my Public Service Announcement for this week is to please take dengue seriously.

Cover up – or travel with me, your friendly mosquito-magnet.


Subscribe to comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Protected by WP Anti Spam