Can I get dengue more than once? Will it get worse each time? We find out

BY DBS, 16 NOV 2020

As Singapore hits a new high in dengue cases, here’s what you need to know

Without a doubt, when it comes to our health, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken up much of our attention this year. But did you know? Singapore also hit a record number of dengue cases in 2020 – prompting authorities to encourage residents to take further precautions to stay safe.

We noticed questions on how to combat the virus have been surfacing online, so we decided to get you some answers from the experts.

We speak with Dr Anthony Chua, CEO and co-founder of StratifiCare, which is currently developing the world’s first test kit for predicting whether a dengue case has the potential to become severe.

StratifiCare is a social enterprise supported by the DBS Foundation and winner of the inaugural DBS Foundation Social Impact Prize.

How can I tell if I have dengue?

“The most common symptoms are fever, rashes and bone aches. But these can be pretty similar to infections like chikungunya, for example. So, it's always better to visit a doctor, who can order a blood test, to see whether you have dengue.”

When are the mosquitoes that transmit dengue most active?

“The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for transmitting the dengue virus, fly around and bite during the daytime. They have also adapted to urban life, and have even learnt how to take elevators to the higher floors of (apartments and) flats.”

Can papaya leaf juice treat dengue?

“It is a common myth that papaya leaf water is able to cure dengue. Scientists in Asia have been trying to run clinical studies, to determine whether it’s indeed effective. There are conflicting conclusions being drawn. So, I will say that there is still insufficient evidence to really tell whether or not it’s effective.”

If I get dengue, can I get it again?

“There are four different serotypes (which can be understood as “types”) of dengue. So, if you were to get infected by the first serotype, it is equally possible for you to get infected by the second, third and fourth. It’s just that you will be immune for life against the first serotype.”

How will I know if my dengue infection has the potential to become severe?

“Right now, the safest way is to see the doctor. Even though the World Health Organization has (indicated) certain warning signs and symptoms, (on whether) a patient could go on to develop severe complications, doctors actually take into consideration factors such as chronic illnesses and the patient’s medical history.”

“We've developed a test kit, that can accurately predict whether a dengue patient will move on to develop severe dengue. By doing so, doctors can make a more informed decision, on whether or not to hospitalise certain dengue patients. Our Singapore population is rapidly ageing, and we have a problem with the bed crunch (in hospitals). For the patient, it is really unnecessary hospitalisation costs being saved. If they can just recover on their own, like a flu, why do they have to pay to be hospitalised?”

Why does severe dengue need to be treated quickly?

“It is very critical, because the patient’s condition can deteriorate very fast. If a person develops severe complications, and is not provided with timely treatment, the fatality rate can be as high as 50%. But with very timely and supportive treatments, the fatality rate can be significantly reduced, to less than 5%.”

If I get dengue on multiple occasions, will it worsen each time?

“There are some observations that if you are infected by the first dengue serotype, for example, that your condition can worsen if you get the second. However, this is something that is in the grey area, and we pretty much see it more as a hypothesis rather than a fact.”

How can I prevent myself from getting dengue?

“Prevention is always better than cure, and we have to do the steps recommended by Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA). But personally, I’m also more data driven. I downloaded the NEA’s application, and I key in the areas that I’m more concerned with, such as where my parents and I stay. Whenever there is an outbreak or cluster there, the NEA will notify us through the application. I will then give my mother a call, to remind her to clear the water from her plants, and to put on her mosquito patches.”

According to data from the NEA, there have been over 33,000 dengue cases in Singapore (as of November 2020), the highest number ever recorded for the country in a single year. For more information, as well as further tips on curbing the spread of the virus, visit their website.

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