Dengue fever: What it feels like to have the virus that could be arriving in the UK

A mosquito known to carry the dengue virus, is photographed through a microscope. Credit: AP

By Sophia Ankel, ITV News Content Producer

When I woke up on a tropical island in Malaysia, I could hardly open my eyes.  

The sunlight that was streaming into my hotel room was so intense it made my eyeballs throb.  

I clamped my hand over my eyes as I tried to get up and go to the bathroom, but my knees gave out. I felt incredibly weak, and incredibly nauseous.  

My body felt like it was tingling and when I looked into the mirror, I saw a rash spreading from my back all the way to my chest and face. It was red and hot. 

The strange symptoms emerged overnight.  

The day before, I was playing in the hotel pool with my sisters on what was supposed to be a two-week long Christmas break with my family. 

By the evening, I was achy but didn't think much of it.

When my mother, a nurse, came into my room, she knew what was wrong in an instant. I had the tell-tale signs of dengue fever, an infection that spreads via mosquitoes.

The disease is typically found in tropical and sub-tropical climates worldwide, but a worrying new government report found that due to climate change, mosquitos carrying dengue fever could become commonplace in the UK too.  

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) report found that dengue could be transmitted in London by 2060, while the mosquito itself could become widely established across England in the 2040s.

There is no vaccine available in the UK to protect yourself from the virus, which in some cases, can be fatal.

Growing up in Southeast Asia most of my life, I was always aware of the dangers of dengue fever but I was never afraid of it. After all, I was 22 years old and led a very active lifestyle.

But having dengue was the worst I have ever felt.

For three days, my body temperature went up to 41C.

My migraines were so bad, all I could do was lie in the dark and in complete silence for hours on end. At night, my body would start shivering uncontrollably.

Dengue mosquito. Credit: PA

My skin became so sensitive that lying down hurt, sitting up hurt, and wearing clothes became uncomfortable. I had no appetite and I lost 10 kilograms in a week.  

When, by the third day, my fever didn’t subside the hotel doctor recommended I go to hospital.  

Because there was no hospital on the island, we packed our bags, and booked an early flight home. I was so weak, I had to be brought onto the plane in a wheelchair.  

Doctors can only treat the virus symptomatically, which means I was put on a drip and had my blood platelets monitored. 

Your blood platelet count decreases while you have dengue because the blood cells are affected by the virus.

My platelet count was so low at one point, there was talk about a possible blood transfusion.

But luckily it never came to that, and by day 10, I was starting to feel a lot better.

Dengue fever taught me that I am not invincible - and that we need to take wearing insect repellent seriously.

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