How to Avoid Dengue Fever in Mexico

Map showing distribution of dengue fever in Mexico

Secretary of Health, Mexico

Although the main health concern of most travelers to Mexico is avoiding Montezuma's revenge, there are a few other illnesses that you may be exposed to during your travels, including some that are transmitted by those pesky insects—mosquitoes. Unfortunately, besides leaving itchy welts, these bugs can also pass along some pretty unpleasant sicknesses that may have graver consequences, like malaria, Zika, chikungunya, and dengue. These illnesses are most prevalent in tropical and subtropical areas The best way to avoid becoming sick when traveling is to be aware of the risks and how to prevent them. 

Similar to Zika and chikungunya, dengue fever is an illness that is spread by mosquitoes. People who are infected with this illness may have a fever, aches and pains, and other complications. Cases of dengue fever are on the rise in many parts of the world, including Central and South America, Africa, and many parts of Asia. Mexico has also seen a rise in cases of dengue, and the government has taken steps to reduce the spread of the disease, but travelers should also take their own precautions. Here's what you should know about dengue and how to avoid this illness if you're traveling to Mexico.

What is Dengue Fever?

Dengue fever is a flu-like illness which is caused by being bitten by an infected mosquito. There are four different but related dengue viruses and they are most commonly spread by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito (and, less commonly, the Aedes albopictus mosquito), which are found in tropical and subtropical regions.

Symptoms of Dengue
Symptoms of dengue can range from a mild fever to incapacitating high fever that is usually accompanied by the following ailments:

  • Severe headache, muscle, and joint pain
  • Rash
  • Gastrointestinal problems

These symptoms may appear from any time between three days and two weeks from being bitten by the infected mosquito. If you become ill after returning from a trip, be sure to tell your doctor where you were traveling so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Dengue Fever Treatment

There is no specific medication used to treat dengue. People who are suffering from this illness should get a lot of rest and take acetaminophen to bring down the fever and help ease the pain. It is also recommended to take in plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. The symptoms of dengue will usually clear up in about two weeks, although in some cases, people recovering from dengue may feel tired and sluggish for several weeks. Dengue is very rarely life-threatening, but in some cases may lead to dengue hemorrhagic fever which is much more serious. 

Other mosquito-borne illnesses

Dengue fever bears some other similarities with Zika and Chikungunya besides the method of transmission. The symptoms can be very similar, and all three are spread by mosquitoes. One distinguishing feature of dengue is that its sufferers tend to experience a higher fever than that caused by the other two illnesses. All three are treated in the same way—with bed rest and medication to bring down fever and ease pain—but there are as yet no specific drugs which target them, so a specific diagnosis is not strictly required. 

How to Avoid Dengue Fever

There is no vaccine against dengue fever. The illness is avoided by taking preventive measures to avoid insect bites. Mosquito netting and screens on windows are crucial for this, and if you are outdoors in an area with mosquitoes, you should wear clothing that covers your skin and apply insect repellent. Compounds containing DEET (at least 20%) are best, and it's important to reapply the repellent periodically if you are sweating. Try to keep mosquitoes out of indoor spaces with nets, but a net around the bed is a good idea to avoid bug bites during the night.

Mosquitoes tend to lay their eggs in places where there is standing water and are therefore much more numerous in the rainy season. Efforts to eradicate mosquito-borne illnesses include informing locals about eliminating areas of standing water to reduce mosquito breeding sites.

Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever

Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF) is a more severe form of dengue. Persons who have been infected with one or more forms of dengue virus are at greater risk for this more severe form of the disease.