dengue fever blues

I consider myself a pretty seasoned solo female traveler …..who, most recently, has been living in India for the last two years. I have developed a pretty thick skin in an attempt to adapt to life in India. And, probably, a bit of an attitude about being a hot shot traveler/expat – able to go anywhere and live in any country after living in crazy India for 2 years.

The other day I got a bit of a wake up call, proving that “we” (collectively used as all experienced travelers, backpackers, nomads, wanderlusters and whatever clichéd term we want to label ourselves as) are just human and can, in fact, get sick….seriously sick while traveling and living abroad. Sometimes it’s as if we live in an imaginary “travelers’ bubble that protects us from all the worlds threats.

I run Maria Guest House with my husband in Palolem Beach, Goa and we get many holiday go-ers as well as seasoned travelers staying with us for holiday and recoup time after making their way through India and Asia.

In this particular case, a lovely French woman named Julia came to stay with us with her 4 year old daughter to relax after 30 hectic days in Nepal and India. She has been coming to India and Nepal for many many years….having been to both places over 20 times. Julia is a nurse who is affiliated with a NGO in Nepal who works to provide clean water to rural  villages. She comes frequently to help with the project.

As I write this blog post she is spending her 2nd night in the hospital with a serious case of Dengue Fever with 41 degree temperature (104 degrees), bleeding of the gums, vomiting and diarrhea while her poor little girl sits confused on her own hospital bed in an Indian hospital.

Julia arrived to our guest house a few days ago feeling ill and has steadily gotten worse. We called for a home visit from a local doctor who then whisked her away at 2am to a hospital in Margao which is one hour away to determine what was wrong and treat her symptoms. As I placed her sleeping daughter onto her lap in the back of the car, a sense of fear waved over me. I hate to see anyone suffer. I spent a sleepless night worrying about her, waiting to hear the outcome in the morning. When the diagnosis came in the morning confirming Dengue Fever I was a little bit in shock…..I’d never actually come across anyone who had come down with this…it sounded downright scary.

So much for the 10 day holiday at Palolem Beach.

Thankfully Julia has very competent doctors who are treating her and she will be just fine after a few days at the hospital.

All it took was one pesky little infected mosquito to cause a world of problems.

What is Dengue Fever?

Dengue Fever is a debilitating viral disease of the tropics that is fairly common in Asia, transmitted by mosquitoes, and causing sudden fever and acute pains in the joints. In a small proportion of cases, the disease develops into the life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever, resulting in bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and blood plasma leakage, or into dengue shock syndrome, where dangerously low blood pressure occurs.

While Malaria can be prevented by taking pills when traveling in potentially high risk areas, there is no vaccine or medicine to date that has the ability to prevent dengue fever should you be bitten by an infected mosquito. One can only take precautions by wearing reliable mosquito repellent, full coverage clothing such as long pants and long sleeved tops and avoiding high risk areas (lakes with damp surroundings) and times of day (dusk) when mosquitos are most active.

I first visited India and Southeast Asia in 2013. At that time I took all the precautions recommended since it was my first time and I was more than a bit nervous about everything. Though I wasn’t particularly thrilled about taking malaria pills after hearing stories of hallucinations, liver problems and severe sun sensitivity….I decided, the risk of those side effects was better than being sick with malaria in a foreign country all alone.

Now, I am married to an Indian and have lived full time in India since September 2013 and am running a guest house in Goa. I am not taking malaria pills and am pretty darn careless about preventing mosquito bites I must admit. I do tend to hide out at dusk as the mosquitos in Goa get more active and bothersome, especially in monsoon time.

I think people who have travelled extensively start to feel super-human and immune to threats, these very real threats, that are around when we travel. If we’ve taken local buses or trains in third world countries, been zip-lining through the amazon forest, trekking the Himalayas or living in the heart of Africa and come out untouched then we get a false sense of security and, often, start to let our guard down.

Maybe we feel that these diseases, sicknesses and accidents only happen to “newbies” when traveling…only to the inexperienced. How could it possibly happen to me?

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Seeing Julia being taken away to the hospital and later learning that she has Dengue Fever was a wake up call for me. She had been to India and Nepal over 20 times, she is no “newbie”. It could happen to me too!

As travelers…. whether solo, coupled, with friends or as a family it is our responsibility to remember that we are visitors to a foreign land….one that has different water bacteria, unusual diseases that can be airborne or carried by insects and animals. We are more prone to becoming sick if we aren’t proactive about protecting ourselves.

Trust me, being sick somewhere like India and having to go to the hospital is no day at the park! The care is good and conditions are sanitary but it is so different than what most of us are accustomed to at home that the experience can definitely be scary and unsettling.

As expats, like me, live in foreign countries it is very easy to get comfortable and lazy about taking threats like malaria and dengue fever serious. However, now I will be taking extra measures to always wear mosquito repellent and longer clothing during monsoon time. Nothing is 100%, but better to try.

Julia was sure that she only had 2 or 3 bites in Nepal, but all it took was one.

The bottom line is that it’s a big world out there and I want to see all of it! So I have to stay healthy and strong and only I can take care of myself.

So, fellow travelers…..please take care….even if it seems inconvenient. Your health is much more important.


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