My Dengue Fever Experience

DengueIt’s 10am in Chiang Mai, northwest Thailand, and I return to the guesthouse from breakfast feeling a little sluggish. There was no prior warning that anything was amiss when I leapt out of bed a few hours ago, but now I’m suddenly feeling weak with a very mild headache. It’s a strange sensation, one that I can’t remember ever having felt before. I’m due to catch a bus with a fellow traveller at midday to a nearby village and assume that I’ll shake off the ill feeling. I get to work packing but as time passes I begin feeling worse and worse. At 11am something tells me I best rest up for the day, so 10 minutes after checking out, I check in again, assuming that a day’s rest will see me right.

What followed were to be three days of pretty intense fever, where things simply went from bad to worse. Incredible weakness, a racing mind that involved itself in all sorts of random ridiculous thoughts, little sleep, if any, at night, no energy and the most intense pain right behind my eyes every time I moved my eyeballs.

Up the rickety old stairs in the rundown guesthouse was my room. It had a mosquito net that had seen better days, one now dotted with holes draping down over a crumby bed in a room with some homemade wooden shutters for windows. It was late August, the tail end of monsoon season, which only means one thing in South-East Asia, an abundance of mosquitos, the prime suspects for my ordeal.

Hospitalisation

It was on day four, with a much improved fever that I went to the hospital. The day started out with me getting out of bed, walking downstairs to take a shower, but then returning to bed directly afterwards for a three-hour sleep due to the exhaustion of having taken a shower! In hospital, after a glance at my blood values and the depleted platelet count, dengue fever was promptly diagnosed. With next to no appetite and in danger of dehydration, they kept me in for a further four days on a drip.

I had heard so much about this disease, and indeed had even met an Irish girl while in Korea who had had it. Tales of her experience were at the time enough to scare me. She suffered tremendously. In truth I had never suspected dengue from the get-go. From all I had read online, I had expected the fever to be much worse. While my fever was bad, it certainly was not what I had anticipated, and is what delayed me in going to the hospital. It does seem however that it affects everyone in different ways. Many people suffer greatly while others get it and barely know they’ve had it. It seems I fell somewhere in between.

Being on the road for extended periods you open yourself up to these sort of setbacks now and again. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor once said “The impediment to action, advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”. With illnesses of this nature, you have the choice to wallow in self-pity or accept it, learn about it and focus on recovery and the opportunities it will open up.

Within reason, I’d venture to say that many types of ill-health don’t necessarily have to be a negative thing. On my two years on the road, the bouts of illness I have experienced have allowed me to acquire abundant knowledge about my body. I was rarely in tune with my it, rarely had a true understanding of the food I ate, what worked for me and what didn’t, had zero presence, and ignorantly fueled it up with what I considered healthy, having zero regard for the feedback it gave. Treating it like a car which you fill up and expect to start-up and run effortlessly all day is one way which is sure to lead to problems. Having the occasional setback can be the ideal catalyst to begin educating yourself.

The Recovery

By day seven the effects of dengue fever had vanished, leaving me just as suddenly as they come on a week earlier. A blood test confirmed a rising platelet count and I was on my way.

The recovery period for dengue can be quite drawn out for some. Ranging from a number of weeks to many months, most people seem to say it takes around 2-3 months for energy levels to return to normal. For me it took about 3-4 weeks. Within that time I was frequently tired after only minor exertions. It was a couple of months later that I started to notice that I was having days with a severe lack of energy. Initially I attributed it to the dengue fever, but have since realised that it was the effects of some dietary experiments I was carrying out on myself. Once I got the diet rectified my energy levels quickly returned.

Hair Loss

Hair loss from Dengue - The sight that greeted me each morning

Hair loss from Dengue – The sight that greeted me each morning

Now, here comes the part many of you may be wondering. Yes, dengue does often cause hair loss, although not always. It doesn’t happen until some time after you have contracted the fever, maybe 2 or 3 months, but it can be quite distressing if you don’t know, or expect it, beforehand.

My hair started falling out in Vietnam about two months after recovering. Initially a little puzzled, I assumed it was a change in shampoo. Day after day however, more and more hair would be spread on my pillow each morning. I could pull out tufts of it by running my fingers through it. I started taking vitamin supplements thinking it was some sort of deficiency. It continued until one evening when showering in Saigon, I saw my wet hair in a mirror and realised how light I was.

At this point I began to take it a little more seriously, did some googling and was reassured to see that dengue was the probable culprit. A visit to a doctor and some blood tests confirmed that everything was in order and that dengue was the cause of the hair loss. In all, I suffered hair loss for almost 2 months and lost quite a bit all over. It has now thankfully grown back!

Tips for dealing with Dengue

Here are a few tips I can offer from my experience of having dengue for anyone who comes across this via google in their hour of need!

  • If you find yourself in certain parts of Asia during monsoon season, as I did, then there’s a good chance of getting it. Remember there is no vaccination against dengue. Bite prevention is key – as it is for any other mosquito bourne disease – so take the necessary precautions to avoid getting bitten. Cover up, sleep under a good net in the danger areas, and remember that the mosquitos that spread dengue bite in the morning and during the day, not at night. Wearing DEET is also an option. I used it occasionally and although doctors say the toxic effects of it are not harmful to your skin, I’m still to be convinced. On one particular occasion while wandering around rural Laos doing some photography, I had a tripod slung over my shoulder and realised that the DEET on my arm had corroded the paint on the carbon fibre leg of the tripod. My forearm was black!
  • If you do happen to get an otherwise unexplainable fever, then best get it checked out without delay. A simple blood test at a hospital will allow a doctor to diagnose you. This is especially important if the fever turns out to be malaria rather than dengue, where it crucial to treat it without delay. There is no treatment for dengue, so hospitalisation isn’t always necessary. Incidentally, if you contract dengue for a second time, they say it can be quite serious, so best get yourself to a hospital without delay if you suspect that second infection. There are 4 strains of dengue and you are only immune to the strain that you got infected with.
  • This one may be different for different people, but I never tell my family when I get sick. Even though it can be quite tough to be so sick so far from home, I don’t believe that calling home to tell your family you have dengue fever is a good idea. Maybe it’s just me, but they won’t be able to do anything from 1000’s of miles away. It only leads to worry and unnecessary stress for them. I have had a few bouts of illness on the road and never told them until I was fully recovered. I once had a skype with my mother while I was in Sri Lanka and after mentioning that I had a minor bout of diarrhea from some dodgy food, I received a call every day until I had recovered. Diarrhea, a strangely often welcome occurrence at times to a traveller, is pretty minor by comparison so I quickly learned to keep quiet after that reaction!
  • Finally, don’t listen to me when it comes to medical advice! I write this article knowing it’s well possible that someone hungry for info could be stuck in a remote mountain village in north Vietnam with a raging fever, hours away from a doctor, and has resorted to google while tethering off a painfully slow 2G connection looking for help! If that is you, then I hope this article helps you out. For others, there is plenty of information available online written by certified practitioners who are in a much better position to advise. Here is one such website with abundant information on dengue fever. One final thing I would recommend before travelling to a given location, is to have a basic understanding of the diseases that are on offer in that particular area. It’s always better to go prepared, and don’t leave without insurance!

I’m no doctor after all, just a fool who wandered around Chiang Mai in shorts in monsoon, slept in a room with no windows under a net full of holes!! Don’t let it be you!

– Safe travels

PS – If you have had dengue fever, please do let me know about your experience below.

This entry was posted in Travel.
  • Katia Munoz

    Oh, where you sick at the time I met you at Chiang Mai (Aug 2014)? You seemed pretty healthy at that time!
    And… great blog (and pics)!

    • Hi Katia, actually it was a day or two after you left that I got sick. I reckon I got a bite up in that room. Good job you left when you did!

  • Caroz

    I got dengue the very first week of 2015 and was hospitalized from January 8th to the 11th. I started experiencing the hair loss early march. I was happy to read this article… glad to know i am not the only one experiencing this. After the dengue the skin on my feet and legs was peeling for weeks. apparently skin peeling and hairloss are the delayed signs of dengue. sigh. And i am a woman with long curly hair. This is depressing.

    • Hi Caroz, Sorry to hear that you contracted dengue too. I imagine it’s comforting to know that others have gone through the hair loss thing too. Mine all grew back afterwards, but I imagine it’s a lot tougher to deal with it if you are a woman. Hope you are recovering well and that it all rights itself in the end.

      • Caroz

        I hope so too. I see that you have mostly traveled in Asia, but whenever you head out West (in my case Haiti) beware of the dengue/chikungunya viruses over here!! i also had the pleasure of getting the latter last yr. I can quite figure out which was worse… I’m still debating lol.

        • That sounds rough getting both those. Yeah dengue becoming a real epidemic these days unfortunately, quite a few places in the world where it’s all too easy to get. I’ll keep it in mind if I ever head that way!

    • Ankit Agrawal

      Myself ankit,i was having dengue in june was admit for 6 days in the hospital nd finally cured.but now in sepetember i m expwriencing a huge loss of hair .my hairs have got thin all over my scalp nd even now the gaps betwwen hairs can be seen which are large enough.m very temsed to losse my hair in such a small age of 24 years old.can anybody help me to fight this depression

  • Michelle Little

    Your experience sounds very similar to mine! I contracted dengue fever in Koh Lanta in July. I had already booked a flight home previously but got stuck in Bangkok and Shanghai due to typhoons on days 3-5. The first few days I felt like I had been hit by a truck then it turned more into a horrible flu like feeling in Shanghai. I returned home to be taken into hospital the next day because I nearly fainted in the shower by exhaustion and dehydration. I was so dehydrated the staff had to poke me 17 times to get blood, from arms, hands, ankles and finally the back of my knee. A day or two later I felt so much better and now I only have random days of major fatigue but recently started to see major hair loss, like major.. Freaking out, I googled it and found your blog. I’m happy to see I’m not the only one who freaked out!

    • Hi Michelle,
      I’m glad to hear that the blog post reassured you. Yes, it can be quite frightening when you don’t know the full reaaon for it. Hope you are fully recovered now.

  • Nikki

    I’m also in Chiang Mai at the moment, and got dengue fever about 2 weeks ago. Started with the same symptoms, intense fever, horrible headache, and about 2% energy levels. After a week of dealing with the symptoms with medication, I went to the Chiang Mai hospital where I stayed for 2 days untli my platelet count rose. The only thing I can say for sure helped was Papaya Leaf juice. Seriously, the stuff worked MAGIC. My platelet count kept lowering until I had a friend deliver me 4 bottles of the stuff. I chugged 1 bottle down and the next morning my platelet count had risen and I could go home!

    If you are sick with dengue, please please try papaya leaf juice. I drank a bottle a day for 4 days, and not only does the juice help you recover quickly, but my acne cleared up as well 🙂

    • Hi Nikki,
      Glad to hear you recovered in the end. Yes I had heard about the Papaya leaf juice but unfortunately didnt try it. I didn’t realise you could buy the juice so I was eating full papayas. Thanks for posting. I’m sure that info will be helpful to someone.

      Please do let me know if your hair begins to fall out in a month or two. It would be interesting for people who find this via google in thir hour of need to know I’m sure.

  • Vidya K R

    Hi, not related to the any of locations mentioned, am in Bangalore, India. I am writing this since I started losing hair, (a lot, frighteningly). I had contracted Dengue in August (2015) last week, hospitalized and since the count was too low, had to be transfused with donor platelets. Hair fall started as late as October 3rd week. And since it is usual to lose hair in winter, did not mind it. But then it was hair every where. A whole bunch from the roots. At the saloon, every person started asking “Are you on medication, or Chemo? What happened to you?” And my hair had just started to be voluminous and long, I was bit proud of that 🙁 , had to cut it short to a little more than a bob. It is really re-assuring to read this blog. At least I have hopes of growing it back 🙂 .

    • Hi Vidya,

      Really glad that the article gave you some peace of mind. It’s really the main reason why I wrote it, as I understand that it can be quite stressful when your hair starts falling out like that. The hairfall in October would definately be inline with what I experienced in that it occured 2-3 months after the infection.
      I’m sure it will begin to grow back in the near future, but there may be a shampoo which will help with it in the meantime. Let us know how you get on as I’m sure it will also be useful to others who come across this post with similar issues..

  • Wang Nanyan

    Never have I ever appreciated my thick messy hair before this. I got dengue in October 2015, and started Hairloss at January 2016, around 3 or less months after my ordeal. At first puzzelled about my Hairloss, but after some thinking, I remembered an article I read while having dengue, which had something to do with Hairloss. So I searched it up, and voila, it was your website I have encountered 3 months back. Fully reassured that my condition will soon pass.
    Thanks for the information!

    • Hi Wang, I’m glad to hear that you found the article useful. Indeed, it seems that your symptoms are in line with what I experienced. Hopefully it will pass soon for you!

  • Pam

    I contracted dengue in Haiti on a missions trip Dec 7-17. I became ill about Dec 22 but didn’t really recognize it until Dec 24. Spent the night at my daughters so I could watch grand kids open presents on Christmas. Went home and was supposed to go back for Christmas dinner but was too sick to go. Went to urgent care on the 26th and the nurse practioner thought I had a virus but they wanted me to have labs drawn on Monday. Didn’t go because I could get into my primary physician on Tues. I complained of “my bones hurt” was covered in a rash, had low grade fever, headaches with eye pain, joint pain, swollen feet and hands. Because my daughter and I are nurses we already figured out with my symptoms it was malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever or chickengunye (sp). Felt better Jan 10-16 but on the 17th it has all started over again. I don’t have enough energy to do anything. I have an underlying low platlet count normailly, so I was surprised to find my count was not really low. I am so very thankful to not have had the hemoragic dengue since I bruise very easily normally so don’t know that I would make it through. Thanks for sharing your story and those others who have sent theirs.

    • Hi Pam,
      That’s quite strange that it started over again on the 17th. I hope it is under control now an dthat you are on the road to recovery.

      • Pam

        Thank you for the reply. I am feeling much better now but forgot about the hair loss part. At least if it starts happening, I know where it came from. Now I am starting to deal with the possibility of breast cancer.

        • Oh dear, sorry to hear about this new issue even though you’re feeling better otherwise. I hope things work out ok for you.

  • tere lenon

    I had dengue last Jan 2016 and I’m having extreme hair fall since last week (3rd week of March). It’s freaking me out and feeling very sad because of the hair loss. Thank you for sharing your experience. Hoping this hair loss will end soon.

    • Hi Tere,
      Thanks for your comment. Your symptoms appear to coincide with what many others experience. The hairloss should stop at some point in the near future I would imagine. I hope it all works out ok for you.

    • Colleen Allan

      I had acute Dengue April/May this year 2016 in Indonesia and now in early July I have been experiencing major hair loss too…..not a happy chappy and wonder how long this will continue???

      • Hi Colleen, I’d say about 6 weeks it was in my case. I’d recommend seeing some sort of specialist to perhaps get a shampoo that may help minimise it.
        Hope you’re on the mend

        • Colleen Allan

          Thank you Francis, I will be travelling again next week in South East Asia and will have to be very diligent in using a good repellent from head to toe!! I certainly don’t want a repeat of dengue!! Thanks again.

  • Elsa Quinn Poulsen

    I got dengue in Chiang Mai while getting acupuncture at Tao Garden Retreat. The Chinese speaking doctor couldn’t understand my calls for help as aegyptus mosquitos buzzed around me during my treatment, where my body was covered with needles and I couldn’t swat them away. Not long after, Dengue hit me like a truck. I was alone in a bungalow on the ridge at Haad Why Nam on Kho Pha Ngan with no one to care for me or bring me water. For days I was trapped in my bungalow, tossing and turning in the pain, too delirious from fever and too dehydrated to walk to the retreat to get help. After a few days of acute sickness (it was all delerium, so I’m guessing it was 3 or 4 days?) I finally was able to stumble like a zombie to the pharmacy in Haad Rin to get help. As soon as the girls working the counter saw me, they gasped in horror at the sight of how sick I was, and I collapsed and vomited on the pharmacy floor. They gave me some paracetemol and electrolytes, and I slowly recovered over a few more days. Shortly after, my hair started falling out. I didn’t put the connection to the dengue at first, but it was very distressing to see strands of my pretty hair coming out in my brush. I would say about 1/4th of my hair fell out – enough for my scalp to be visible. That was 8 years ago and it’s just starting to feel as full as it was before the dengue now. Learn to identify Aegyptus mosquitos, and kill them on site. Never leave water standing in dengue areas. Take prevention seriously. Dengue is serious.

  • rukzz

    how does dengue effect one’s hunger

    • Hi Rukzz, I remember having no appetitie whatsoever for a few days while I was going through the worst of it. After that things quickly got back to normal.

  • Christiane Peters

    Thanks for sharing this. I recently had dengue fever. I noticed tons of hair loss 3 months after the infection. It’s really scary finding huge clumps of hair in your brush and/or all over the floor. It’s been 2 months and I’m still loosing it but I think it’s slowed down I do see a far amount of new growth coming in but my hair is much thinner. Did your hair loss stop suddenly or gradually? How long did it take to grow back?

    Thank you
    CAP

    • Hi Christiane, Sorry to hear about this. Good that it is growing back back anyhow. I seem to remember the falling out stopping fairly suddenly. It was really bad for a period, but once the worst of it had passed the improvments came pretty quickly. It probably took another month or o after it stopped falling out for it to grow back to normal. Hope it works out for you. Let me know if you need any other advise.

  • Shwetha

    Even I’m having severe hair loss. I suffered from Dengue in the month of June this year. And now i have lost 75% of my hair in the past 2-3 months. I was seriously thinking that the hairfall is due to shampoos. I kept on changing brands. Hair is dry, brittle and I can see lumps of hair fallen while combing or wash. Thanks for this article. Now i know the reason. I suffered exactly the same way you suffered. When i read this article i can exactly relate to it.

    • Hi Shwetha, good to hear that you foud the article reassuring. I hope things start to turn around for you shortly. It should stop soon.

  • Koh Anika

    Hi Everyone, I am now experiencing serious hair fall and it is really distressing. I had Dengue mid August this year and started to experience serious hair loss on the 3rd week of Oct. I have loss more than 30% of my hair in just 3 weeks. Went to the skin doctor during the first week of hair loss and she told me nothing can be done to stop the hair that is meant to fall out as these hair have entered into the resting stage during Dengue. She gave me some hair serum and vitamins and i am taking them according to instruction. However, all these do not stop the hair fall and the it is becoming more and more serious.

    Is this completely true that nothing can be done to stop hair that is meat to fall out? Anyone has any remedy to share?

    • Hi Koh, I’m afraid I have no remedy for you. but I do believe it will stop at some point. I think I experienced hair loss for about 2 months in total before it stopped. I would guess that a good shampoo and proper nutrition may help slightly, but I think it is best to prepare yourself for a 6-8 week period of constant hairloss. The good news is that it does seem it will grow back once it stops falling.
      I hope it works out for you in the end. Hang in there!

  • Shivani

    Hey, I have been through dengue too. And in my case it was so severe, so intense. Had to go through one complete week of sleepless nights, zero appetite and more than a 104 degree farheheit fever. Two days after being diagnosed, i experienced one of the worse rashes of my life all throughout my body, everywhere except my face. It was a pain to lie down, sit straight or do any activity which involved touch. The feeling was of a million needles piercing through every point in my body 24×7. As the fever slowly reduced, appetite increased, pain reduced but lethargic body profile remained. About twenty days after my fever went away, i got a severe rash on my face. It was very itchy but not painful. My entire face was filled with rashes and texture became extremely rough. That took about twenty days to go away. After this from about november 20, my hair started falling. SEVERE HAIRFALL bothers me day and night. Hair volume has reduced to one fourth for me. Hope this gets better as till today i am experiencing extreme levels of hairfall.

    • Hi Shivani,
      Wow, sounds like you got particularily severe case of it. 20 days was a long time with fever. I hope the hairfall ceases for you soon and that you are doing well.

  • Ellen Jonatan

    hello, my name is Ellen, I live in Jakarta, Indonesia and i got dengue on late November 2016 and hospitalized for 6 days. it was the first time i experienced it and i do hope i will never ever got it again. The headache was horrible, my fever constantly goes over 39 degree everyday. The dengue even lower my liver performance and the doctor asked me to get vaccine shots 1 and 2 months after
    Now it’s January 2017, and i have to say i have been getting the hair loss straight away after i was cured and got out of the hospital. Unlike others stories whom get hair loss months later, is it normal too?
    will it really stop some point later? I purchased some hair treatments serum and been using it for 3 weeks, no signs of stoping and it drives me crazy. Yesterday i bought multivitamins supplement too, is it gonna help?
    I hope you are reading this and give me some advice although your article was posted years ago, thank you

    • Hi Ellen, Sorry to hear about your situation. It’s surprising that the hairfall started so early. Yes generally it starts some months after infection. I’m afraid I can’t say how normal it is. Perhaps the vaccines your doctor recommended influenced that or the liver issue you mentioned?

      I don’t think multivitamins will do a whole lot, Unless you really are deficient in something. I started taking them at the time and it didn’t help at all. Later research into them lead me to believe that most of them are a waste of money.

      I think everyone I have ever spoken to on the matter who has experienced hair loss, has always had it come to an end eventually. It’s a tough period, but eventually it should subside. best thing to do would be to see a doctor and ensure everything else in in check regarding your health.

      Sorry I can’t be of much help. Let me know if I can do anything.

      • Ellen Jonatan

        I did not expect you would see my comment Francis, thank you for your reply.
        Well i guess there’s really not much i can do except to wait for it to subside, it’s a one heck of experience I don’t want to go through again.
        Thanks again! 🙂

        • Hi Ellen,
          Yes indeed, it’s a horrible experiencea dn it seems youre may have been worse than most. I hope things work out for you in the end and that you’re on the mend at the moment.
          Be sure and let me know how things go for you.Hopefully it’s just a matter of time.

  • Alex

    Can I ask how long it took for the hair loss to subside for people?
    I had Dengue fever in Jan 2017, started experiencing hair loss in March am keen for some assurance it will end soon!

    • Hi Alex,
      That timeline is in line with my own experience. I had a couple of months of hairloss once it started. It should subside in a few weeks for you hopefully.

      • Alex

        Thank you Francis.
        I can’t tell you how reassuring it was to read this blog and know the cause of this.

  • Hi… I’m an asian who got dengue recently, about two months ago, 4th june until the 10th of june actually, and I never want to go through it again. Never. For the record, I’m only sixteen and for me, appearances are everything and I love my hair. My hair loss started about 5-6 days ago and I freaked out. I had cut my hair short to try and overcome the hair loss but that’s when it seemed to take to the worse. I would wake up to a pillow full of hair strewn everywhere and my thoughts were all clouded by my hair loss. I’m so stressed up about it. Today my friend braided my hair and was shocked at the amount of hair loss that I was experiencing. She then asked me whether I had went through high fevers and all and told me about her experience a year ago when she had dengue. That’s how I ended up searching up on this and I’m so relieved that there are others who’ve experienced it too. Thanks for sharing your experiences and reassuring others Francis Cassidy!