Tropical diseases are no fun.


It’s been a while since my last post.  I’ve been busy wrapping up at my old job and starting a new job at Thismoment, where I joined the engineering team almost a month ago!

Of course, that’s not all that’s been going on.  Two days after returning home from Singapore where I visited some friends from Drew, I came down with a fever (~102 F).  And pain behind my eyes (telltale Dengue headache).  And achiness, especially in my hands and feet.  And a really itchy rash.

My first thought: I really hope I don’t have Dengue fever again!  Dengue, a.k.a. breakbone fever– there’s a good reason it’s called that– was one of my big worries when traveling in South Asia this time around.  We had an outbreak at AUW during my time there, and it was miserable.  Like the common cold, there are several types of the Dengue virus (4 different serotypes).  These different virus types are similar enough that antibodies made during a previous infection can bind to and–  here’s the kicker– not neutralize the virus.  Because Dengue attacks white blood cells, the same ones that would ordinarily ingest the virus to get rid of it once neutralized, you actually get sicker faster, which can sometimes result in Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever.  You can probably guess what that name means.

(Aside:  This is why my mom worries when I travel to tropical countries.  Mosquitoes love me, and I’ve had Dengue at least once; the first infection can be silent.  I used 30% DEET, but it’s easy to miss a spot.)

If I was still in South or Souteast Asia, I would probably have gotten tested for Dengue and other related illnesses.  Since I was in the U.S. when I got came down with my mystery disease, I was tested for:

  • Dengue (this is what I wanted them to do, mosquitos, endemic areas, at risk for the really bad kind…)
  • Malaria (makes sense– mosquitoes, endemic areas… what’s not to love)
  • Tuberculosis (I had no symptoms other than a fever)
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Other stomach bugs
  • Blood infection (very unlikely)

None of these were positive (good news), except a Dengue test showing I had a prior infection.  They did not determine my prior serotype (which would be useful information).  I also was told I would be admitted if I didn’t get a liter of IV fluid.  Admittedly, this was probably not a bad idea.

When the full brunt of the American medical system couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, I took it to Google.  A search for “dengue + wrist pain” yielded a reasonable self-diagnosis:  Chikungunya, which means “to bend up” (from arthritis) in Swahili.  It’s symptoms are so nearly identical to Dengue fever that it’s often misdiagnosed as Dengue.  It is (now) endemic to India (where I was bitten mercilessly by mosquitoes), and like Dengue, is spread by the evil Aedes aegyptii mosquito.  My doctor wanted me to come in so that their travel tropical disease doc could poke and prod at me, and maybe see something interesting, but I passed.  The super high deductible plan is no fun in those kinds of circumstances…

It took about 2 weeks to mostly recover, just in time to start my new gig 🙂

Lasting effects:  I still have arthritis in my left wrist.  This is annoying (no surfing, no yoga), but should go away in the coming months.  At least I should have protective immunity from this particular disease.

Have you ever had a weird tropical disease?  Or do you have a favorite?  What’s your most exotic vaccine?  (Mine’s probably rabies.)  Are you as excited as I am about the possibility of a Dengue vaccine in 2015?  I’d like it for traveling, but people who live in endemic areas really need this.

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