Dengue Fever and Pregnancy

Dengue fever and pregnancy explained

Dengue fever is an infection that is passed to humans through mosquito bites. It is found in warm, sub-tropical and tropical climates and occurs mainly in areas of dense population and following very wet weather that stimulates mosquitoes to breed. It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that there are now annually up to 100 million cases of dengue fever worldwide. So, what are the implications of dengue fever and pregnancy?

Mild dengue fever symptoms

The signs of dengue fever usually appear within a few days of being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Signs of dengue fever during pregnancy can include:

  • severe headaches and pain behind the eyes
  • high fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • flu-like muscle and joint pains
  • mild bleeding from the gums and nose
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of sense of taste
  • a rash or red patches over the upper limbs and chest area

Because many of these symptoms are also common to flu and other viral infections, you will need a blood test for a definitive diagnosis, so contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the above.

Severe dengue symptoms

Severe dengue fever is potentially fatal to both mother and fetus. It can lead to a sudden catastrophic drop in blood pressure, hemorrhaging, and organ damage.

Severe dengue usually appears several days following the initial symptoms of mild dengue and signs include:

  • reduced fever
  • intense abdominal pain
  • persistent, bloody vomiting
  • rapid, shallow breathing
  • bleeding gums
  • feelings of overwhelming fatigue
  • reduced urination

The majority of sufferers who were previously in good health usually recover within a fortnight and the infection resolves itself.

Dengue fever and pregnancy

Women who catch dengue fever while they are pregnant are at a greater risk of developing a severe infection. This is because the immune system is suppressed during pregnancy.

Dengue can present a higher risk of complications during pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia, premature birth, and a baby with a low birth weight. It is more common for women who contract dengue fever during pregnancy to have Caesarean deliveries.

Thrombocytopenia (low blood platelet levels) are common in dengue fever and pregnancy. In addition, women who have their baby while infected with dengue have an increased risk of severe hemorrhage during birth and may require a blood transfusion.

There is a low risk that dengue fever may be passed to the baby before birth if the mother contracts the disease towards the end of her pregnancy.

Signs of dengue fever to look out for in babies during the first two weeks of life include:

  • high fever of 100.40ºF or higher
  • low temperature of 96.80ºF or less
  • agitation or irritability
  • refusing to eat or being very fussy about feeding
  • lethargy
  • a rash

Although there is no antiviral treatment or vaccine for dengue fever, you can take paracetamol to relieve your symptoms and this is safe to do during pregnancy. It’s important to keep up a high fluid intake and to rest. If your platelet count is very low, you may need a blood transfusion. If you develop severe dengue, you may be hospitalised and placed on a drip to prevent dehydration.

Most people make a full recovery from dengue fever, although around 40% of severe dengue cases are fatal if not treated promptly.

Preventing dengue fever during pregnancy

Remove stagnant water where mosquitos could breed. This includes containers and pots outside your home. Cover any open drains and fill in ditches or potholes where rainwater could pool.

Use mosquito netting over your bed and install screens on your windows to keep the insects out. Use mosquito repellent sprays that are safe to use during pregnancy, and wear clothing that covers all of your skin.

Immunity from dengue fever

There are four different recognized strains of dengue fever. Although you will have lifetime immunity to the strain of dengue that you have had, you won’t have any immunity to the other three. In addition, if you go on to contract a different strain of dengue, you stand more chance of developing the severe form of the disease, so it’s essential that you take adequate preventative measures once you’ve recovered.

Dengue fever and pregnancy understood

Dengue fever can present serious complications during pregnancy. If you live in an area where mosquitos are prevalent and there have been recent cases of dengue fever, take the protective measures outlined above, and always consult your doctor or midwife if you begin to develop any of the symptoms.