How do you tell COVID-19 and Dengue Apart?
What are the similarities between COVID-19 and dengue fever?
COVID-19 and dengue fever are both infections caused by viruses. Both conditions can cause fever and body aches in the affected individual. COVID-19 and dengue fever can cause mild to severe symptoms. At its worst, both conditions can lead to damage of multiple organ systems and even death.
What are the differences?
COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. As of now, it is still unproven if an individual who previously developed COVID-19 infection will form antibodies that can protect them from getting re-infected in the future.
Dengue is transmitted through the bite of the Aedes mosquito infected with a dengue virus. There are 4 subtypes of the dengue virus, namely dengue virus 1, 2, 3 and 4. Because of these 4 subtypes, an individual can develop dengue fever multiple times.
COVID-19 is spread through exposure to infected droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. In contrast, there are a couple of ways that dengue is transmitted. The first is mosquito-to-human, in which an infected Aedes mosquito bites a human, effectively spreading the dengue virus. Mosquitoes, in turn, can become infected when they bite a person infected with the virus. These infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through its bite. The dengue virus can also be transmitted from pregnant mother-to-child. A pregnant woman already infected with dengue can pass also on the virus to her foetus during pregnancy.
Although both conditions can cause fever, body pains and fatigue, persons with COVID-19 infection can also experience cough, difficulty of breathing, loss of taste or smell, sore throat and colds. In dengue, the other common symptoms include severe headaches, pain behind the eyes, nausea, vomiting, and skin rash.
Who is at risk of developing these diseases?
People are at increased risk for developing COVID-19 if they travel to or live in an area where there is ongoing spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Close contacts of patients that are infected with COVID-19 are also at risk. Elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and weak immune systems are also more likely to develop severe symptoms if infected with COVID-19.
Individuals who travel to or live in tropical areas are at risk for developing dengue fever due to increased exposure to infected mosquitoes. People who were previously infected with dengue virus are at greater risk of developing severe disease when re-infected.
What can you do to protect yourself against these diseases?
To reduce your risk of getting COVID-19, it is recommended to avoid crowded areas, practise social distancing, by maintaining a safe distance of at least 1 metre from others when outside, and wearing a face mask when in public. It is also advisable to practise regular handwashing and avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
To reduce your risk of getting dengue, it is recommended to protect yourself from mosquito bites by using mosquito repellent, wearing long-sleeved clothing, and installing mosquito screens in the home. Eliminating habitats where mosquitoes may breed is also important. Since mosquitoes that carry the dengue virus commonly breed in standing water, covering and regularly clearing water containers of stagnant water are also effective in reducing your risk of getting dengue.
A dengue vaccine is currently available for people aged 9 - 45 years. This vaccine is recommended for use among individuals with confirmed previous dengue infection.
What are the possible complications of these conditions?
Severe COVID-19 infection can lead to severe lung disease, kidney injury, heart problems, blood clots, and death. Severe dengue can lead to bleeding, haemorrhagic fever, reduced blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and death.
When should you see a doctor?
It is best to consult a doctor if you develop fever with any of the following:
- Muscle or bone pains
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
It is difficult to differentiate COVID-19 and dengue fever during the early stages of the disease. If you are experiencing any of the severe symptoms mentioned above, seek medical attention immediately at your nearest clinic or accident and emergency (A&E) department. Further tests or nasal swabs for COVID-19 may be required.
Article reviewed by Dr Jim Teo, respiratory physician and intensivist at Parkway East Hospital
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