WA travellers to Bali warned to protect against dengue fever

Dengue fever is on the rise, with Western Australia recording twice the number of cases compared to the same time last year. With the majority of these cases having been acquired in Indonesia, Western Australians are being urged to take precautions against the disease when travelling to Bali.

In this month’s blog, we take a closer look at dengue fever and how you can best protect yourself when travelling to Indonesia and other locations where it is present.


What is dengue fever?

Dengue fever is a virus that is transmitted through a bite from two different types of mosquito – the Dengue mosquito and the Asian Tiger mosquito. The disease itself is caused by one of four dengue viruses carried by these mosquitos.

These mosquitos tend to be most active during the day and can be found inside and around buildings close to human habitation. The disease cannot be transmitted person to person.

Generally, a person will develop a lifelong immunity to the type of dengue virus they contract but will remain susceptible to the other types.

As noted by the World Health Organization, dengue fever has grown significantly in recent decades, from 505,430 cases reported in 2000 to a record high of over 6.5 million cases and 7,300 dengue-related deaths across 80 countries in 2023.

This rise in cases is thought to be a result of dengue fever carrying mosquitos spreading to more locations across the globe, combined with increasing global temperatures with higher rainfall and humidity, and increasing population movements.

So far this year, there have been 138 cases of dengue fever recorded in Western Australia; twice that of last year. The majority of these cases were acquired in Indonesia, which itself has recorded more than 60,000 cases so far this year.

Where else is dengue fever present?

Indonesia is not the only country where the disease exists, with dengue fever also highly prevalent in other parts of Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

While Asia accounts for around 70% of cases, the disease is also endemic in more than 100 countries across Africa, North and South America, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Western Pacific.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms for dengue fever will normally appear 3-14 days after being bitten and can often present like a bad case of the flu.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Chills
  • Swollen glands
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A faint red rash

The fever usually lasts around six days and most people will recover in about a week. However, the infection can become more serious and is potentially fatal. Severe symptoms can include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Persistent vomiting and vomit with blood in it
  • Bleeding gums and/or unexpected bleeding
  • Restlessness

Babies, young children, and those who have previously had dengue fever are at greater risk of developing severe symptoms from the disease. If you feel particularly unwell and experience severe symptoms, phone 000 and request an ambulance for urgent assistance.

What treatments are available?

Unfortunately, there are no specific treatments available for dengue fever, other than to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take paracetamol to reduce fever. Do not use aspirin or ibuprofen, as these can increase your risk of bleeding.

If you experience severe symptoms, you may be required to go to hospital for intravenous fluids to replace lost electrolytes.

The good news is that most people will fully recover within a week or two.

How can I best protect myself?

There is no vaccine available for dengue fever in Australia. The best way to avoid the disease is to protect yourself against mosquito bites as best you can by:

  • Wearing long, loose fitting clothing that covers your skin, including socks and closed in shoes.
  • Applying insect repellent first thing in the morning and one that contains DEET, picaridin, or Oil of Eucalyptus Lemon.
  • Reapplying insect repellent regularly to exposed skin.
  • Using an insecticide, such as permethrin, on your clothes and bedding.
  • Covering your bed with a mosquito net.
  • Keeping your windows closed and staying in air-conditioned accommodation with flyscreens on the windows.
  • Requesting your room be sprayed for mosquitos if you notice them.
  • Avoiding areas with lots of mosquitos and booking your travels for the dry season.
  • Researching your holiday destination and its potential health risks.

If you become sick when you return, book in with your doctor and advise them of your recent travels. A blood test will determine whether you have dengue fever or not and early diagnosis of the disease will help to reduce the risk of complications.

To make an appointment at Illawarra Medical Centre, contact us on (08) 9208 6400 or book online. As a member of the Travel Medicine Alliance (TMA), we provide a range of travel health services including:

  • Follow up advice and treatment of dengue fever and any other illnesses you may have obtained while travelling overseas.
  • Comprehensive consultations on your travel plans and health requirements, including recommended vaccinations and boosters for your travel destination.
  • Travel vaccinations, of which we carry the full range of travel vaccines at our practice. This includes vaccines for measles, hepatitis A & B, yellow fever, malaria, tetanus, cholera and influenza.
  • Visa application health checks.
  • Travel medical kits.

Find out more on our Travel Health page.

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