Dengue virus outbreak reported in Cuba: What you need to know before travelling this winter

Elizabeth Di Filippo
Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

A dangerous strain of the dengue virus has been identified in south central Cuba, putting authorities and tourists on high alert.

According to Cinco de Septiembre, Cienfuegos, Cuba’s newspaper, the potentially deadly virus carried by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito has been detected for the first time since 1977.

A new epidemic of dengue has broken out, causing alarm and clinical developments, but luckily we have not had to mourn the loss of life up until now,” provincial health director Salvador Tamayo Muniz is quoted as saying.

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The last time this form of dengue was active in Cuba, more than 500,000 people from the eastern area of the island became infected.

Cienfuegos, Cuba. Image via Getty Images.
Cienfuegos, Cuba. Image via Getty Images.

“All of Cienfuegos is topsy-turvy because of the dengue issue,” local janitor Idolidia Velazquez told reporters. “No one is going to the hospitals because they are full of patients with the disease. It’s something not seen in years. People are very afraid.”

Officials have increased spraying in the area against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which has also been known to transmit both yellow fever and Zika.

What is dengue fever?

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, over one-third of the world’s population living in the tropics and subtropics are at risk for infection of the dengue virus.

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Although uncommon in the Canada and the continental United States, dengue virus is common in many popular tourist destinations such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands and Puerto Rico.

Transmitted via mosquito bite, nearly 400 million people are infected with dengue fever each year.

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

Symptoms of dengue virus

The most common symptom of the four dengue related viruses (DENV1, DENV2, DENV3 and DENV4) is a high fever. Headache, severe pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain as well as rash and bleeding in the gums and nose are also indicators that you may have contracted a form of the virus.

Dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) is the most severe form of dengue virus that causes a fever that can last up to seven days, followed immediately by vomiting, abdominal pain and difficulty breathing. If treated in time, the CDC reports that the mortality rate of DHF is less than one per cent.

Treatment for dengue virus

There is no set course of treatment for dengue fever or DHF. It is recommended that those infected treat their symptoms with pain relievers such as acetaminophen, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and avoid taking aspirin, ibuprofen or Naproxen.

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Immediate medical attention is required for severe forms of dengue virus such as DHF. If you experience persistent vomiting, vomiting blood, drowsiness, black tarry stools, cold or clammy skin, difficulty breathing or bleeding from the nose or gums, go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

Preventing dengue virus

Without a vaccine, insect repellant is the most effective way to prevent the transmission of the dengue virus whether indoors or outside. Look for repellants with active ingredients DEET, Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023 or icaridin) , IR3535, oil of lemon eucalylptus (OLE or PMD) or 2-undecanone.

For those who live in or are travelling to at risk areas, avoid areas with standing water and wear long sleeves. Sleeping under mosquito netting can also help prevent bites indoors.

Dengue is only transmitted by mosquitos and not person to person. Should someone become infected, continue to take precautions to avoid another mosquito bite.

Click here for more information on dengue fever and tips for to keep yourself safe while traveling.

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