How much do you know about dengue fever in children?

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Keep your children safe from dengue fever by taking steps to prevent the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes in your homes. Find out the signs and symptoms of dengue fever, and why you should do the "mozzie wipeout"!

In Singapore, dengue fever has been prevalent in recent years, and has taken lives. As of October 2015, there has been over 8,400 reported cases of dengue fever for the year. The Ministry of Health and the National Environment Council (NEA) take dengue fever cases seriously, and urge the community to take precautions within their homes, work areas and public spaces.

Unfortunately, cases of deaths due to dengue fever have also been reported.

Definition of dengue fever

Dengue fever is a tropical, mosquito-borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms, rashes and joint and muscle pain.

dengue fever

Does your child have prolonged high fever? It might be a symptom of dengue fever, and your child should seek medical attention.

Dengue fever in children symptoms

Dengue fever in children who are infants and toddlers generally starts with the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Mild rashes on the skin
  • High temperature

Dengue fever in children who are older include:

  • High fever of 106°F (41°C) – usually the first symptom that manifests; other symptoms usually appear after the fever goes down significantly
  • Eye and joint aches
  • Backaches and headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Skin rash, which appears three to four days after the onset of fever
  • Bleeding nose and gums
  • Susceptible to easy bruising

Dengue fever in children may cause your child to be pale and weak, and this weakness may continue for some time after the illness as well.

Children who have not had dengue are more vulnerable. However, they usually end up with a milder form of the disease compared to adults. For fever, some ways to help relief your child of the temperature includes a lukewarm bath, apple cider vinegar and popsicles. Using a child-friendly cool fever patch helps to bring down the temperatures too.

Remember, though, that flu-like symptoms are possible indicators of other diseases as well, such as malaria, leptospirosis, typhoid fever and other minor diseases; so these symptoms are not 100 percent indicative of dengue.

Causes of dengue fever in children

The virus is carried by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito and cannot be directly transmitted from person to person. Instead, transfer occurs when this mosquito bites a person who is already infected. Persons who are bitten by the same mosquito afterwards may also get sick.

Risk factors of dengue fever in children

  • Living in a tropical country
  • Not taking precautions such as not applying or using anti-mosquito products
  • Playing in areas that house mosquito breeding sites such as items that contain stagnant water (uncovered water pails, unused cans or jars, car tires, flower vases)
  • Staying in populated areas that are dirty: lined with garbage and containers that hold dirty water
dengue fever

If you suspect that your child might have dengue fever, seek medical attention immediately.

Complications of dengue fever in children

  • Severe cases of dengue include damage to the heart, lungs and liver, as well as a dangerous drop in blood pressure that may lead to shock and, sometimes, death. 
  • Having a history of contracting dengue increases the risk of suffering from severe dengue symptoms upon the succeeding contraction.

When to Call the Doctor

A mild case of dengue goes away after a week or two. If symptoms worsen a day or two after dengue symptoms go away, consult a doctor because a child may have a severe form of the fever called dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF).

Should your child be suspected of dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), it is important to seek medical attention immediately, as it can be fatal.

Tests and Diagnosis

The pediatrician will examine your child for dengue symptoms and then require a blood test to determine if your child tests positive or negative for the disease. In certain instances, the blood test may not show a positive results especially during the early days, and it may take seven to 10 days after exposure to show up.

dengue fever

The female Aedes mosquito transmits dengue fever from person to person, and children are not sparred. While there is no cure for this viral illness, there are ways to provide relief.

Treatments and Drugs

There is no cure for this viral illness. At best, relief from dengue symptoms can be provided to ease pain and discomfort. There is also no immunisation against the fever.

Dengue has four strains: DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3 and DEN-4. It is only after contracting one strain that a child builds immunity to it; however, he is not immune to the other three strains. In most cases, the subsequent infection and symptoms are much more severe than the first.

For mild dengue, recommended home treatments are to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration from high fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Acetaminophen can be taken to relieve pain and reduce fever. However, avoid anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen that may increase the risk of bleeding complications.

For severe dengue, hospitalisation is necessary to monitor blood pressure, administer intravenous fluids, replace electrolytes and receive blood transfusion if necessary.

Prevention measures against dengue fever

Eliminate mosquito breeding sites

  • Clean out any surfaces that collect stagnant water. There could be mosquitos breeding in indoor bamboo plants, the area under the air-conditioning vents, the dog’s water bowl or even discarded tire outside the house
  • Keep your house clean, dry and hygienic
  • Throw away wet garbage such as vegetable stalks, fruits peels, etc., regularly
  • Clean out any flower pots and throw out dead plants

Repel mosquitos 

  • Dress your child in long-sleeved clothing and trousers to reduce exposed skin
  • Make him wear light-colored clothes as mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors
  • Use Citronella oil-based creams and sprays or other herbal mosquito repellents. Avoid using such on baby’s delicate skin unless your pediatrician advises it
  • Experiment with placing mosquito repellent plants around the house. However, one must ensure that the water drains out well to avoid stagnant water
  • Use mosquito nets while sleeping
  • If you do not already have them, install mosquito meshes on windows. Make sure these are free of holes
  • Lighting a mosquito coil at night helps keep mosquitoes away but ensure proper ventilation and that your child is not allergic to the fumes

Stay indoors when mosquitoes are most active

  • Limit the amount of time children spent outside during the day, especially in the hours around dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active
  • Air conditioning also helps keep mosquitoes at bay

In Singapore, homes are the most common breeding grounds for the Aedes mosquitoes. Everyone plays a part to help lower the risk of dengue fever in the community, so it’s important to understand where the potential breeding areas are.

dengue fever

Have you remembered to check these common breeding areas in your home? Help prevent dengue fever and keep your children safe. Image credit: NEA

“Do the Mozzie Wipeout” Campaign in Singapore

With the fight against dengue fever, the NEA launched the “Do the Mozzie Wipeout” Campaign in April 2013.

Alongside its objectives to promote awareness on our dengue situation in Singapore, inspire action to help prevent dengue, and encourage advocacy, the authority hopes with the community’s support and individuals taking charge of their well-being dengue transmissions can stop.

It is crucial for the community to do the “mozzie wipeout” at least once a week, to help reduce the population of Aedes mosquitoes in Singapore. With most of its breeding grounds in artificial containers founds in residences and a seven-day life cycle, families need to step up to help protect their children and loved ones.

Parents, do you practice the “mozzie wipeout” with your children at home? Let’s take collective steps to keep dengue fever at bay!