I Have Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever Symptoms

Sick with Dengue Fever

Sayulita, Mexico

The virus started with a fever, chills, and headaches. Suddenly my hands & feet erupted with red dots and began to hurt. I was infected with Dengue Fever & didn’t know it.

Dengue Fever is a tropical virus spread by mosquitos. There is no cure or real treatment, and it kills over 25,000 people a year. It’s a serious disease that can leave you bed-ridden for weeks.

I first knew something was wrong when I woke up Sunday morning with one of my worst hangovers ever. The previous night I’d been out chowing down on delicious brain tacos and drinking with my friends Dave and Morgan.

A hangover would seem normal, right?

But I’d only had one beer and two margaritas. While the margaritas were strong, they weren’t THAT strong. This felt like I’d drunk a whole bottle of tequila and was hit by a truck on the way home. There were pounding headaches that lasted all day, cold chills in 90 degree weather, and muscle pain all over my body. I was a mess.

Dengue Fever Symptoms

Bursting Capillaries in My Hands

Dengue Fever Symptoms

My day was spent hiding under blankets in my bedroom in a fever-induced haze. I was sure the women behind the bar had spiked my drink with something. But why didn’t they follow through and take advantage of me?? At least then the hangover would’ve been worth it…

Something didn’t make sense.

The next day my fever was gone. The headaches were gone. I felt better. In fact I felt so good I decided to go surfing.

The waves were the best I’d seen them! But walking down to the beach barefoot with my surfboard is when I first noticed the pain. My feet were really sore…

My fingertips hurt too. Trying to attach my GoPro to the surfboard was difficult, it felt like I was grabbing thumbtacks. After an hour of riding the waves I gave up. My hands and feet were in a lot of pain.

Dengue Fever Blood Test

Getting a Blood Test

Facebook to the Rescue

I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t tie my shoes because the pain was so bad. Red dots started appearing all over my hands and feet. I described my symptoms on Facebook asking for advice. A few people mentioned the possibility of Dengue.

So I borrowed a friend’s car and drove myself to the closest hospital the next town over. The staff sent me to the emergency room where I proceeded to wait for 4 hours in freezing cold AC while people puked up their lunch around me.

Compared to everyone else waiting for treatment, my ailment wasn’t an emergency. Locals streamed in with broken arms, legs, kids puking up yellow goo, and women in labor. Other than painful hands and feet due to capillaries bursting under my skin, I felt fine. So I gave up and left.

Dengue Fever Checkup

Dr. Mauro Breaks the Bad News

Testing for Dengue

The following day I drove 25 minutes to the town of Bucerias on the recommendation of fellow blogger Christine, whose husband had been infected with the disease. But the doctor didn’t have voicemail, or a website, and it turned out he was closed from 2pm-6pm.

When I returned later that evening, he was still closed even though his sign said he should be open. Another wasted afternoon. But when you travel in foreign countries, simple tasks aren’t always that easy.

I returned yet again, this time in the morning, and described my symptoms to Dr. Mauro. He was a very pleasant man who spoke excellent English. He seemed doubtful it was Dengue, because most people suffer a lot more than I had. But he sent me across the street to have bloodwork done just in case.

An hour later I returned with the results. Dengue Fever.

My platelet count was low, but not so low that hospitalization was required. Severe cases of Dengue are called “hemorrhagic fever” and can result in internal bleeding, low blood pressure, and death.

Dengue Fever Treatment

Enjoying My Smoothie Prescription

Feeling Much Better!

The doctor told me I must have a very strong immune system to only suffer one day of fever — normally people are out for a week, or require hospitalization. There’s no real medical treatment for Dengue Fever other than rest, hydration, and lots of bug spray to prevent mosquitos from spreading the disease to others.

So over the last week I’ve been sleeping a lot while making sure to drink plenty of water and fresh-fruit smoothies. Papaya fruit in particular is rumored to increase blood platelets faster than normal.

I’ve been very tired over the last week, but other than that I’m fine. My fingers and toes have healed up. No more signs of fever or headaches either. No rashes. My dengue experience was a mild one, and I feel pretty damn lucky.

Tonight I fly to Costa Rica to explore for a week, taking it easy for the first few days with nature walks & dolphin watching.

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Comments & Questions

  • Nicco

    Thats horrible man, i’m glad you are feeling better! i’m travelling to South East Asia soon and am worried about picking up Dengue or Malaria. I’ve heard that after you get dengue once, its very dangerous, even fatal if you get it again. Do you know if there’s any truth in that?

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I wouldn’t worry about it too much, I think most of the deaths are children (which sucks of course, but you should be ok).

      Yes I’ve read that the 2nd infection can be a lot worse. But now I know what to look for! :)

      • http://ourtastytravels.com Erin De Santiago

        There is def a higher risk second time around and no, not necessarily kids are highly at risk. If you have pre-existing health problems like I do, I was being tested every day for signs of internal bleeding.

        There are something like 4 strains (at least here in Belize) and if you catch the same one, you are immune. If you get the others, that is the time to start worrying.

        You definitely got lucky with a mild case. Mine was considered mild and I was sick for over a month…I had it in August and still have residual issues, along with all my friends and neighbors who had it. At one point, the health dept had 19 active cases in my block alone.

        My fever was never high like everyone else here, but the pain in your bones and behind the eyes is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I lost 20 lbs in less than 2 weeks and was in bed for weeks. The strain I had is winding down when your hands and feet start peeling…literally the palms of my hands were flaking off and that was 1.5 months after contracting it. LOL

        • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

          Wow! Thanks for sharing Erin. I didn’t realize it could be so bad…

  • http://www.yachtingyogini.blogspot.com Abbi

    Glad your body is on the mends! Enjoy CR! Pura Vida!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Thanks Abbi! Excited to find some wildlife.

  • http://onceatraveler.com Turner

    Not dengue, but I was laid up for a week in Peru after eating something suspect. Longest I’ve ever been sick.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      A week of sickness on the road can’t be fun. I’m glad mine wasn’t that bad.

  • Ashwin Nair

    I had been following your Facebook posts quite regularly , Take care bro! Take it slow! :)

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Thanks Ashwin. That’s the plan. Nice and easy. :)

  • Billage

    Crazy story, bro. Getting sick in a foreign land is my worst nightmare. Nicco, make sure you get shots for malaria, yellow fever, etc. before you go. It’s definitely a confidence booster.

    • yvekes

      Shots for malaria???

      • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

        No shots against Malaria yet, but it seems like they’re working on one: http://nyr.kr/1cXfVnk

        Just preventative medication at the moment. Or you can wait until you get it, then treat it.

  • http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com Nora

    Good on you for having such a strong immune system!
    The first time I got Dengue I was unable to move for a week (and simultaneously had my heart broken – wow that was fun)!
    The 2nd time I too had a much stronger immune system and although it all but killed the first two stops of my recent European tour, I was right as rain after about five days.
    Apparently of the four strains you can get, two are worse than the others – often requiring hoapitalization. We got lucky! Ha ha.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Ah, that sucks Nora. But it’s good to know that you have 2 down, only 2 more to complete the set and be Dengue-free for life. :D

  • Linz

    I see they didn’t put gloves on while taking your blood. How do they know you don’t have the HIV? Just sayin’…….they really trusted you!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Eh, it’s Mexico. There are no rules & regulations for small stuff. People are expected to be responsible for their own actions. I guess he’s confident he’ll be ok.

  • Jackie

    Glad you are feeling better, and glad for the update! Stay well!

  • http://gypsyshutterbug.com/ Tara@Gypsy Shutterbug

    I just got over Dengue in Mexico a few weeks ago…and like you I had no idea that that’s what it was until my hands and feet started itching like craaazy and had red dots all over them. I was pretty lucky too that mine was not the scary internal bleeding kind…yikes. Hope you are feeling all rested up!

  • http://acruisingcouple.com Casey @ A Cruising Couple

    Oh man!! Sorry to hear about that. We’ve been avidly applying bug spray the past two months in Costa Rica to avoid it, but given the number of mosquito bites I have I’m just waiting for it to happen. We’ve actually met quite a few people here who have gotten Dengue, so if it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. Enjoy Costa Rica- we just got to spend a few days with Green Global Travel and enjoyed hearing more about EcoAdventure!

  • http://www.grasshopperdreams.com Michael

    Glad to hear you’re on the mend, my man. I’ll tell you what, when you decide to experience a country, you REALLY experience a country, LOL! Keep on keepin’ on, my favorite fellow vagabond!

  • http://eclectictravelgirl.com Laura

    Oh no! Well at least you seemed to have a very minor case of it. I think I caught dengue a few years back after returning from a trip to the Dominican Republic. I had gotten mosquito bites, developed the rash and was just ridiculously sick with flu-like symptoms, but the doctor thought dengue was unlikely and didn’t test for it. I wonder if he just didn’t want to have to report it to the CDC if the test came back positive. It actually took me almost a month to feel well again. Now I practically bathe in DEET to avoid mosquito bites. Have fun in Costa Rica and glad you’re feeling better!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Crazy. I keep hearing stories like yours that remind me how lucky I was to have a minor case of it.

  • http://nomadictexan.com Mike(NomadicTexan)

    Glad to hear you are up and around, but take it easy. You don’t want a relapse senor! Be safe!

  • http://www.dangerous-business.com Amanda

    Yikes! I’ve actually heard of quite a few people getting hit with Dengue recently. Scary stuff.

    But lucky you – it sounds like you didn’t have it bad at all! Glad to hear you’re feeling better.

  • http://www.pixamundo.com Rafael

    Glad to hear your feeling better. I have been following along. Stay away from the mosquitos in Costa Rica. Just hang out inside bars with A/C and you should be fine.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Ha! Now why would I go to Costa Rica to hang out in bars Rafael? :D

  • http://www.justtravelous.com/en Yvonne

    Oh wow. So glad you feel better! I’ve read about Dengue some more after I saw your status on FB … Guess what: one symptom is hair loss! Just imagine! :D <3

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      So THAT is what happened! I must have been infected for years!

  • http://www.nohangingaround.com Derek Cullen

    Seriously, unless you’re hiding something you handled that LIKE A BOSS!! Fair play, luckily I’ve never had anything like it although I’m about to cycle into Malaria zone now in Africa eeek

    What were the possibilities had you not gone to the doc?


    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Really, not much different if I hadn’t gone to a doctor, but at least I knew for sure what it was. And knew that I wouldn’t need hospitalization.

  • http://needlegirlhaystackworld.com Laryssa

    That sounds terrifying, I honestly didn’t know Dengue was a possibility in Mexico. Glad you’re on the mend.
    Did you even remember getting bitten by the mosquito?

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I’ve been bitten by quite a few mosquitos here, not sure which one was the culprit.

  • http://www.parttimevagabond.com Chris – Part Time Vagabond

    Well, that’s only slightly scary! Glad you’re ok and healing up. I wonder if there’s anything more you can do to prevent Dengue other than bug spray.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Not that I know of unfortunately.

  • The Curmudgeon

    Glad you’re getting better. Red dots on your extremities. Hmm. Smoothies are nice, but you really need a Moxie or two. There is nothing like a Moxie to cure everything. Lets not forget the poor mosquito, too. Probably writhing in pain from attacking a gringo. Everyone forgets the poor bug.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Best prescription medicine I’ve ever used.

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca Ayngelina

    Rotten luck, I hope you get better soon!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Feeling much better now. The smoothies helped. :)

  • http://www.suitcasestories.com Michael

    Being (really) sick on the road is one of our biggest concerns. Lucky to date we haven’t had anything more than a cold or a hangover (that’s a sickness right?).

    Glad you only got a mild dose. Nothing worse than being stuck in bed for weeks!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Sure it is! Yeah, I think this makes 3 times I’ve been really sick in 3 years of travel. So that’s not too bad. I was overdue.

  • http://wherespablo.com Pablo

    Crazy, good to hear your immune system handled it like a champ!

    I ran into a couple of backpackers last year who had it. They were both out for about a week. Wild

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      It seems I might have given it to a friend here in town too (via mosquito sharing). Maybe when I borrowed her car to drive to the hospital. Her case was a bit worse than mine…

  • http://www.bankerinthesun.com Rashad Pharaon

    Wow! Really glad you were able to overcome it so quickly. I’m prepping for a trip to SE Asia (Laos/Cambodia/Vietnam) and the vaccination doc scared the crap out of me with horror stories about malaria. Looks like you’re living proof that “deadly” diseases are always necessarily as bad as we’re led to believe.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Yeah, something similar happened to me when I first left on my trip. Doctors at home seem to over-hype the dangers of foreign diseases. Sure they can be deadly sometimes, but most people who get them recover. It’s not the end of the world.

  • Don Mower

    Glad to here you are on the mend. Take care, be safe and enjoy you adventures. Merry Christmas.
    Don and Lynda

  • http://www.thevirtualtraveler.com Jonathan

    Dengue sure isn’t something to play around with! Here in Matagalpa Nicaragua where I live there has been a major outbreak of it and there have already been quite a few deaths reported. Most of the deaths were older people and children but it is very sad and the sickness is not fun to have at all!

    The good thing is that the city officials here in Matagalpa are taking this dengue thing seriously and are constantly spraying and doing everything possible to try and kill as many mosquitoes as possible.

    I got sick one time here and I went to the doctor and they said it was dengue but I am not sure. All I had was fever aching and dizziness for about a week.

    It looks like what you had was pretty bad!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      This is why we should all love bats. Nature’s mosquito control system. More bats!

  • http://www.tammyandchrisonthemove.com TammyOnTheMove

    You poor thing! Many of my friends in Cambodia had Dengue fever and they all felt awful too. It is called the bone-breaker flu here, because your bones ache so badly. Glad you are on the mend again!

  • lucy

    That’s so terrifying man but i am glad you are okay. I never knew that mosquitos’ spread any other disease apart from malaria.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Those things are dangerous! More dangerous than most animals. Don’t be scared of crocodiles & bears, fear the lowly mosquito…

  • http://vfraukje.wordpress.com Fraukje

    Yes, that’s bad. many of my friends had dengue. Never really knew it came with red dots, though. But luckily no first hand experience :)

  • http://blog.tripmark.com Tripmark

    Very funny blog post (not the part about you having Dengue!) I have heard people have died from this so when I read you were surfing and going about your day, I was very surprised, how IS your immune system so strong?

    Regardless glad you are getting better.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      My theory is that because I expose myself to all kinds of germs/bugs on a regular basis, it gets stronger. But who knows. Maybe cheesecake & cookies have immune system health benefits?

  • http://www.paperplanesblog.com Alana – Paper Planes

    Ah – you’re the fifth person I know who has gotten dengue in the past three months. The rest were all in Chiang Mai – it’s bad here this year :/ Feel better!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Damn! Sounds like a global outbreak. Stay safe over there Alana.

  • http://youshouldgotoo.com Barbara

    Wow, glad to hear that it was not a severe case you had, that can be really serious. Sounds like it made you feel bad enough as it was!! Keep the bug spray on from now on just to be sure.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Bug spray is now part of my morning ritual Barbara. With special attention to the feet/ankles. They love that area for some reason…

  • http://welltraveledmile.com Rand @WellTraveledMile

    Wow that does not look good, get well soon man!

  • http://www.itdhoneymoontrip.com/ Robby

    hi !
    nice post ! i heard somewhere in India that papaya fruit is good for blood count and papaya leafs juice is another faster tip for in-cress plate late count rather then any thing else. Try it.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Yup, my papaya fruit smoothies were just what the doctor ordered. Literally. :D

  • http://www.double-barrelledtravel.com Carmen

    You poor thing!
    A friend I was talking to last night had dengue fever twice. The second time her liver nearly shutdown and she was in a coma! Scary stuff. Glad you’re ok.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Oh wow. That’s hardcore. I’ll have to make sure I don’t get it again…

  • http://earthdrifter.com Mike | Earthdrifter

    I always worry about Dengue but maybe I’m not typically in an infected area long enough to really increase my chances. *Knock on wood* It appears as if it’s on the rise worldwide, sadly.

    Eating raw garlic (which has many other benefits) can keep mosquitoes away, along with rubbing citronella oil on the skin. Keep the spray with you though as some of the nastier mosquitoes are immune to these otherwise wonderful natural substances.

  • http://www.escapehunter.com Escape Hunter

    Terrible to read about your experience. At now I know so many details about how it really is (from someone who’s been through it).
    Take care, mate!

  • Oreo79

    You are so so lucky not to have suffered too badly with it, I was diagnosed on the 8th of April 2014, after a returning home from Bali the week before. I suffered really badly, to the point of 40 degree fevers for almost a week, excruciating bone stabbing pain, especially in my orbital bones, I could only sleep for the first week, barely able to walk the 5 steps to my bathroom.. Vomiting anything I did try to eat or drink, losing 6.5 kgs in the first week. The second week was almost as bad, my hands & feet swelled up, a rash completely covered my hands feet, arms & legs, so bad that I couldn’t walk or open or hold anything & was bright red.. That was 4 weeks ago now & the skin has just finished peeling off my hands & is is now peeling off my feet. I have never felt so terrible in my life ever.. GP said it was the worst case that he had ever seen.. Six weeks after onset and I still don’t feel right, I have good & bad days, get tired really easily & struggle to walk any distance at all, I get really short of breath… I wouldn’t wish this illness on anyone, it’s been a terrible experience & has effected my whole family, my husband couldn’t work, he had to care for our kids & for me. My kids thought their Mummy was going to die & were so scared to wake me or cuddle me, because I was so sick & sore.. Good luck for the rest of your travels… One bite can cause so many issues…

  • Marie

    I got dengue twice in two consecutive years! My first time hit me really badly. I was losing hair and I felt very lethargic! Considering that I’m 15 this year, my immune system did a great job in my recovery. And I live in Singapore, a tropical country where mosquitoes are found everywhere.

    However,I heard that kiwi juice, papaya leaves and Chinese medicine are cures of this nasty infection!

    In Chinese, the fever is translated into inflammed bones, that we are very Heaty at that point of time.

    Everyday I live in fear or getting bitten again. Perks of living in a tropical country!

  • Frankie

    Hi Matthew,

    Why isn’t there dates on the posts?