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A Toronto woman has died after contracting dengue fever while on holiday in Jamaica.
On Jan. 16, Jodie Dicks travelled with her best friend to Jamaica to attend a destination wedding. Shortly after she landed, Dicks was bitten by a mosquito and developed a severe form of dengue fever known as dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF).
On Jan. 21, the day after the wedding, Dicks began to feel unwell and broke out into a rash, but dismissed it as nothing more than a heat rash. Three days later, Dicks became disoriented.
“She was all confused,” her stepmother Kay Dicks told CTV News. “She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t know who she was.”
After learning that Dicks had been taken to hospital, her mother Christine, stepfather Randy Boissoin and longtime boyfriend Kerrian Walker flew to Jamaica. When the family arrived, Dicks was so ill she could barely remember them.
According to Boissoin, the decision was made to airlift the 26 year old from the Jamaican hospital she was staying in to a medical centre in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Due to restrictions, only Dicks’s mother, Christine, was permitted to fly with her in the helicopter, forcing Boissoin and Walker to wait in the airport for a flight.
Once in Florida, Dicks received multiple blood transfusions, and on Jan. 26, suffered two heart attacks. Boissoin said Christine was able to make her way to her daughter’s side and hold her as she died.
“For your daughter to pass away and your wife to be there by herself and you’re stuck sitting in an airport in Jamaica - you just can’t find words for it,” he wrote in a Facebook post to family and friends.
“It is devastating and we’re in shock,” Dicks said in the interview. “It was like a nightmare.”
“You hear people say ‘the sweetest soul’ and she truly was,” Boissoin said of his stepdaughter, who was often surrounded by her nieces and nephews. “At family gatherings, she’d be out and about - swimming with three kids on her back, or catching frogs [with them]. She was that incredible aunt.”
Dicks, who grew up in Whitby, Ont., was living in Toronto with her boyfriend Kerrian. The couple purchased a condominium and had plans to marry and start their own family.
Dicks’s family, in the wake of her passing, is speaking out to hopefully warn people about dengue fever and prevent another tragedy.
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.
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.
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, which 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.
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.
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 eucalyptus (OLE or PMD) or 2-undecanone.
For those who live in or are travelling to at-risk regions, 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.