A few years back, when we were staying in Mazatlán, I contracted dengue fever from one of a seemingly insignificant series of mosquito bites. In my life, I have been lucky enough to have only endured a few medical conditions of this type, food poisoning, valley fever, stomach flu, etc. Dengue is another level of misery. It makes all of the others pale by comparison.
Living on the Caribbean, we take great pains to ensure we reduce the number of times we get bitten by mosquitos. Of course you can’t totally eliminate bites, so lowering your chances is the best defense. However, as long as you are in the tropics, the risk remains.
The city does a fairly good job at spraying to keep the population in check, but there will always be some mosquitos here. I’ve heard many tourists complaining about the smell and potential toxicity of the spray, and I too share in some of the concerns… but as a person who has had dengue, I completely understand the need for it. This is a serious disease that can kill people quite easily.
With every place we wander, there are certain risks: Australia has poisonous everything, Northern California has perpetual mold, Arizona has scorpions and snakes… the world is a fairly dangerous place. Dengue is a reality of life in the tropics. Everyone you speak to has either had it, or seen someone close to them contract it. Without exception, people who live here respect it. They know what the effects are like.
My friend Jose told me that I should drink a cocktail of turtle oil and lime juice, “It is the medicine of the grandmothers!”. He went on to describe how it makes your skin smell like dead fish, but you are protected against it. I suspect that you smell so bad that even mosquitos won’t get near you!
My first bout with dengue came in two phases: the intense fever, with its debilitating symptoms and the chronic weakness that lingered as a result of the entire system shock my body endured. The severe, incapacitating effects of nausea, fever, uncontrollable chills and deep bone and joint pain lasted about a week, but it took at least a month before I was able to regain full strength in all areas of my body. To a person in lesser health, it could have been devastating, even fatal. I completely understand why it is nicknamed, “Bonebreaker”. I felt like someone had beat me with a baseball bat, starting at my toes and working up, leaving no inch untortured. Combine that with nausea, diarrhea, chills, and you have a small picture of what it is like.
So, why recount this horror now? It happened again. As best as I can tell, I got bitten in Cancun on Sunday night. The latency for dengue is about 3-5 days, so it hit me yesterday like a brick. I woke up feeling a little ‘off’, but as the day wore on the symptoms came on in rapid succession. By mid-afternoon, they were in full swing. As it happened, I was teaching an online class to five students in the Washington DC area, and had to carry on through the haze that enveloped me. It is a difficult proposition to teach government contracting peculiarities when you have a 102 degree fever and chills. Somehow, I made it through.
People are constantly telling us how wonderful it must be to live on the Caribbean – and it is – but there are also some down sides. Contracting dengue is a rare one, but it is something that needs to be anticipated, understood and endured. Mercifully, this bout seems to be a light one, and I am back to feeling better the next day…