What are the diseases spread by mosquitoes? Part 1: Dengue fever

Mosquitoes are the world's biggest killers, responsible for millions of deaths every year, and are reputed to have killed half the world's population EVER! That's 50% of people ever born!

Not to understate things, the World Health Organisation says "Of all disease-transmitting insects, the mosquito is the greatest menace, spreading malaria, dengue and yellow fever, which together are responsible for several million deaths and hundreds of millions of cases every year".

Dengue fever

There are four types of the dengue virus that cause dengue fever – dengue type 1, 2, 3 and 4. People become immune to a particular type of dengue virus once they've had it, but can still get sick from the other types of dengue if exposed.

Catching different types of dengue, even years apart, increases the risk of developing severe dengue. Severe dengue causes bleeding and shock, and can be life threatening. There have been deaths in Queensland from severe dengue.

What are the symptoms of dengue fever? Dengue fever has symptoms similar to a serious case of the flu. Most people who catch dengue fever recover in about a week, but for some it can be more serious and occasionally fatal. The symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea and vomiting, a rash and feeling very tired.

The symptoms usually appear between 3 and 14 days after the mosquito bite and usually last for between 2 and 7 days, although can be more severe and last longer.

Dengue fever symptoms

How do you treat dengue fever? There is no vaccine or specific medicine for dengue fever and it should be treated like a flu - rest, drink plenty of fluid and take pain medication like paracetamol. If symptoms persist then you should see a doctor.

If you have dengue fever, you should not take medicines such as aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen as these can worsen any bleeding.

How do you catch dengue fever? You can catch dengue fever if you are bitten by an infected mosquito, it is not transmitted person to person.

Which mosquitoes can spread dengue fever?
There are 2 mosquitoes in Australia that can spread dengue fever, the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

aedes aegypti

The Aedes aegypti mosquito (above) is the main type of mosquito that transmits dengue fever and is found in many tropical countries around the world including north and central Queensland and parts of southern Queensland.

aedes albopictus

The Asian Tiger mosquito, or Aedes albopictus (above) is another type of mosquito that can spread dengue fever but in Queensland is currently only found in the Torres Strait, however there is a significant risk this type of mosquito will spread to the mainland of Queensland.

Where can you catch dengue fever? Dengue is found in tropical and sub-tropical countries in Africa, Asia and South America. In Australia, most areas do not have the type of mosquitoes that carry dengue, but outbreaks of the disease can occur, often in tropical parts of North Queensland when someone becomes infected overseas, then is bitten by a mosquito in Australia and that mosquito spreads the virus to others.

Where can you catch dengue fever

How to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Stay inside during mornings and evenings when mosquitoes are active
  • Use air-conditioning and window screens; use mosquito nets in the bedroom.
  • Wear long-sleeved clothes and covered shoes.
  • Use a mosquito repellent that contains DEET or picaridin
  • Regularly check and drain any still water around your home. Mosquitoes breed in still water, for example, water in empty containers.

For a full range of mosquito protection and tips to get rid of mosquitoes you can read more here.

Part 2: Ross River virus

Part 3: Murray Valley encephalitis

Part 4: Barmah Forest virus

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