Dengue fever

Dengue fever

Dengue fever is a serious viral illness that is spread by mosquitoes. Dengue fever can make your child very sick, and some children die from severe dengue fever. The best way to avoid dengue fever is to prevent mosquito bites.

Fight the bite, day and night

Mosquitos in some countries can spread diseases like dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever and the Zika virus. Dr Laupepa Va'a from the Ministry of Health talks about how people travelling overseas can avoid being bitten by mosquitoes that might carry diseases. 

Key points to remember about dengue fever

You cannot catch dengue fever in New Zealand.

  • infected mosquitoes spread dengue fever
  • your child can't catch dengue fever from another person
  • dengue fever can make your child very sick and some children die from severe dengue fever
  • the best way to avoid dengue fever is to prevent mosquito bites

How do you get dengue fever?

The Aedes mosquito that causes dengue fever.

Your child can catch dengue fever by being bitten by infected Aedes mosquitoes that live in many popular tourist destinations, including the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia.

There are different types of the virus that cause dengue fever. This means your child can get dengue fever more than once if they get a different type. This is because infection by one type does not protect against the other types.

Your child cannot catch dengue fever in New Zealand and they can't catch dengue fever from another person. If your child has returned to New Zealand with dengue fever, they cannot pass it on to others in the family.

How can I avoid my child getting dengue fever?

There is no vaccine to prevent dengue fever.

The best way to avoid dengue fever is to prevent mosquito bites. Protect your child from mosquito bites day and night.

See information about dengue fever in Samoan, Tongan and Fijian at the Ministry of Health website. The information is about dengue fever in both adults and children.

Indoors

  • use screens on doors and windows
  • use insect sprays
  • use mosquito coils
  • put a mosquito net over your child's bed or cot whenever they sleep - for daytime and nighttime sleeps
  • new bed nets often have insecticide already on the net, but if not, you can spray the net with insecticide
  • turn on air conditioning if you have it and close all windows and doors - this is very effective at keeping mosquitoes out of the room

Outdoors

  • make sure your child wears socks and shoes rather than sandals, jandals or bare feet
  • dress your child in light-coloured clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats
  • put insect repellent containing up to 30 percent DEET (diethyltoluamide) on your child - higher concentrations are no more effective and can be harmful
  • when using sunscreen, put repellent over the sunscreen
  • use repellent on clothes
  • use zip-up screens on tents
  • avoid areas where mosquitoes are most active

See information on dengue fever in Cook Island Māori (PDF, 182KB), Auckland Regional Public Health Service website.

See more detailed information from the Canadian Paediatric Society about insect repellent for children.

Check the latest information on outbreaks before you travel

Visit the Safe Travel website before you travel for information on the latest outbreaks.

See Avoiding bug bites while travelling at the Ministry of Health website and How to avoid diseases spread by mosquitoes while in the Pacific (PDF, 303KB) at the Auckland Regional Public Health Service website.

What are the symptoms of dengue fever ?

Your child can develop symptoms 3 to 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Dengue fever can make your child very sick.

Dengue fever symptoms can last up to 10 days and may include:

  • a sudden fever
  • an intense headache (especially behind the eyes)
  • muscle and joint pain
  • feeling very tired
  • nausea/vomiting
  • a skin rash

Many children who have dengue fever may have no symptoms, or they may just have a mild illness with a fever. 

How is dengue fever diagnosed?

Your doctor will look at your child's symptoms and arrange for a blood test to make a diagnosis of dengue fever.

What is the treatment for dengue fever?

  • there is no specific treatment for dengue fever
  • make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest
  • give your child paracetamol to manage fever and pain - you must follow the dosage instructions on the bottle - it is dangerous to give more than the recommended dose
  • do not use aspirin or ibuprofen tablets (and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets) as they can increase the risk of bleeding from dengue infection - speak to your pharmacist or doctor first

What is severe dengue fever?

People with severe dengue fever need hospital treatment because the disease is life-threatening.

Symptoms of dengue fever usually last up to 10 days.

2 to 5 days after dengue fever symptoms have begun, some people may get severe dengue fever. They get worse very quickly even though their fever goes down.

Your child is more at risk of severe dengue fever if they have had dengue fever before.

People with severe dengue fever need hospital treatment because the disease is life-threatening.

Warning signs of severe dengue fever include:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • vomiting which doesn't get better
  • bleeding gums
  • vomiting blood
  • rapid breathing
  • tiredness/restlessness

Who should I contact if I think my child might have dengue fever?

If your child is feeling sick during your trip or in the first 3 weeks after you return home, seek medical advice. If you are back in New Zealand, you can call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116, or see your family doctor. Make sure you tell them about your travel.

This page last reviewed 27 May 2019.
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