When I was a student at the dramaschool of Amsterdam, a classmate told me about his dengue fever. He got sick in Mexico. After this story I never heard about dengue again. Untill I got infected with the virus myself in Thailand in March last year. Because I travel all over the world, I know about the dangers of this virus and I recognized the symptons of dengue fever in time. I think it is very important to be aware of the dangers of this, non infectious, virus. I want to share my story, so you will recognize it in time too. Dengue fever is common in almost every tropical climate and yearly 20 to 40 thousand people die from it. Up to this day there is no vaccin for dengue.
Khao Sok NP Thailand / Dengue
Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection and is mostly transmitted by the female Aedes mosquito. These mosquitos bite during the day, especially during sunrise and sunset. I used Deet 50 every day during my trip in Thailand, but after a dive in the ocean, it is washed off.
Dengue has an incubation period of 4 to 10 days. That is how I know that I probably got infected in Koh Lanta. I started feeling symptoms on my flight back home to Amsterdam. Suddenly I got a high fever and was extremely cold. I couldn’t stop shaking. The other people on the flight were in t-shirts. I took some paracetamol and tried to sleep, thinking it was the flu.
At home I discovered my temperature was extremely high: 39,5 degrees. The symptoms became weirder and stronger. I developed a heavy headache and felt dizzy. For some reason I still thought I was just exhausted from travelling and had a flu. The next morning everything changed. I woke up and almost passed out when I tried to get out of bed. My temperature was still 39,5 degrees and I had a lot of pain in my lower back. That’s when it hit me. I knew dengue causes pain in your joints, that is one of the symptoms…
With mr. Miyagi in Koh Muk, Thailand / Dengue
It was a sunday morning and I didn’t know what to do and where to go, so I called my nurse friend Stephanie. She told me to get in a cab and drive to the hospital for a check-up. On the way there I almost passed out again and in the hospital I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was so scared.
After a short intake, I was on a bed within 10 minutes, with 5 very serious doctors around me. They took 15 tubes of blood, made an x-ray and a cardiogram, every 10 minutes a machine monitored my blood pressure and they put me on coronary care. For some reason I was afraid that it was nothing serious and I caused this circus for ‘nothing’. But ‘nothing’ could be further from the truth. The results of the tests: dengue fever.
This news hit me hard and I panicked. There is no treatment for dengue fever. There is no vaccin and there is no medicine that will make you recover. All you can do is wait for the best and hope the virus will not develop into the dengue shock syndrom. A very serious complication people die from. Nobody knew what was about to happen and nobody could tell me I was gonna be ok. I work out a lot and was in excellent condition, but my body failed me at this point. I had no idea it was about to get much worse…
Morning mist in Khao Sok NP, Thailand / Dengue
Dengue fever attacks your blood. The white cell count and platelets drop. This can be very dangerous because the platelets are responsible for the clotting of your blood. They form clots to stop bleeding. The doctors told me I could not have my period now and had to keep taking my pill every day. My taste changed. Another symptom of dengue. Water tasted sweet and sour! On the 3rd day I developed a skin rash that got worse and worse. My skin looked like I was completely burned from the sun and my hands and feet were itching so bad that I couldn’t sleep for weeks. But first let me tell you about what happened in the hospital….
I was admitted and had to stay. They gave me a drip to keep me hydrated and a high dose of paracetamol for my headache and back pain. You should never take Ibuprofen when you have dengue, because this has an effect on your blood clotting, which is already very disturbed because of the virus. In hindsight, I was feeling sort of ok at that point, now knowing what would happen later. What the doctors didn’t tell me, was that the virus reaches a peak between day 3 and 5…
I have never felt this sick in my life. On day 4 I start to get extremely nauseous. Like I got food poisoning on top of the dengue, with all the complications that come with it. I felt like I was going to pass out any minute and asked for different medication. They already gave me tablets for nausea, but they didn’t work enough anymore at that point. After waiting a couple of hours I finally got Metoclopramide. A strong medicine they give to people who are sick from chemotherapy. During the night a nurse checked my blood pressure every 3 hours. He was very woried and told me he was thinking about calling a doctor, because my blood pressure was extremely low.
Khao Sok NP, Thailand / Dengue
Every day they take tubes of blood and the blood values keep dropping. A healthy person has a value of 350 blood platelets. When you get sick this can drop to 150. My value at that point was 50. If I would get a bloody nose I immediately had to call a doctor, because this was the sign that something serious had to be done and I maybe needed a blood transfusion. It is so scary to loose control over your body like this and not know how it is going to end.
The next morning there were 3 doctors by my bed, checking my liver and looking at eachother with woried faces, saying “it was very large”. Their concern made me panick. This is the moment when I really realized this could end badly. If I would start bleeding somewhere on the inside, there would be hardly any saving possible with my blood values.
On day 4 the blood results are a bit more positive. My white blood cell count is now 1.5 instead of 1.3. Still way to low, but there is a little progress. A normal, healthy person has a value of 4 to 10. I can eat some food too now. The doctors think this is the sign of recovery and tell me it is ok to go home. But… I was still extremely sick. In hindsight I should have stayed a little longer, but I slept in a room with a man who had stage 4 pancreatic cancer and I wanted to be home. On my way out I had to pick up a vaccin for Rabius and almost passed out. I was so nauseous that I have no idea how I got home.
The Bananas Bungalows, Krabi, Thailand / Dengue
Every other day I had to go back to the hospital for blood tests. I should have asked them if I could do these tests at my general practitioner, but I didn’t know this was an option at that point, so I had to drag myself to the hospital. Afraid to pass out or vomit. I can’t believe I was still so nauseous after taking Metoclopramide. During my second visit, I spend more than half an hour hanging above a hospital toilet, with the door locked. I was sitting on the ground, shaking and cold. I realised that if I would pass out now, nobody would find me. This was more than a week after I noticed my first symptoms.
I started looking online for natural remedies for Dengue fever, because the official medicins couldn’t do much. There I found articles about papaya leaves. I still can’t believe nobody in the hospital told me about this, because it is the number one natural remedy for dengue patients. The extract of a papaya leaf increases the count of blood platelets! This has been proved by many studies. I started taking capsules with papaya leaf extract and slowly I started to feel better. My blood values got better and after being violently ill for 2 weeks I could finally visit a supermarket again.
I have been really sick for more than a month. Because my body had to work extremely hard to get the virus out of my system, I was exhausted. After 6 weeks I slowly started to work out again. I wanted to feel strong and like myself again. But it was too soon. Some people feel dengue in their system for more than a year. The symptoms, even the rash, can come back.
Railay Beach, Thailand / Dengue
For now, I am immune to this type of dengue fever. There are 4 different types of dengue and if I get infected by one of the other 3, the risks of getting the dangerous dengue shock syndrom are much higher than for people who have never been infected before. A lot higher! So that is very scary.
I will keep travelling. There is still so much to see, but this experience has had a deep impact on me. For now I will need some time before I travel to the tropics again. I will spend a couple of months in Europe. First trip: Belfast. Hopefully there will be a working vaccin for dengue on the market soon…
My dear friends Stephanie, Randy, Sofieke and Annefleur were my heros. I can’t thank you enough for the days on my hospitalbed when I thought I couldn’t smile anymore and you made me laugh, for all the groceries that you bought, the long waits at the pharmacy when we picked up my medicine and the hilarious selfies with delirious me. I love you!
Khao Sok Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand. Please never ride elephants… / Dengue
Go to a hospital when you think you have dengue fever and stay there! This is a serious virus that can develop into life threatening situations within hours if you are not monitored. From now on I will travel with some papaya leave extract capsules…