Thailand: Dengue Fever by Martin New (2003)
There are a few tall travellers’ tales of dengue fever about. These accounts range in severity from individual hospitalisation to those well enough to wander the streets, casually dangling a drip under the arm. Last year I contracted Haemorrhagic Dengue during my time in Hat Rin, Ko Pha Ngan, and I'd like to offer a personal account and some real advice. Needless to say it was not a nice experience. Looking back over my travels I now only realise the potential for having the Grim Reaper as a travelling companion. If it were not for the American doctor in neighbouring accommodation, with his medical kit and acute dehydration diagnosis, that could very well have been the case.
The onset of Dengue Fever is very rapid indeed. It was difficult to discern a rise in temperature in 30-degree heat, but what struck me was the absolute lethargy that overcame me within the space of an hour. I thought I could merely sleep off whatever it was back at the hut, but when my joints began to ache and my heart started beating nineteen-to-the-dozen, that was when I told my travel buddy something was wrong.
He quickly notified Doctor Eric, who was staying nearby, and my temperature was taken. 103 I think it was, although I cared little about numbers. I was given a heap of vile orange flavoured re-hydration sachets and Gatorade, then left to sweat it out in the hut throughout the night and well into the next day. The good doctor then returned with his thermometer, noting an even higher temperature – 105! Again meaningless to me at the time, all I knew that it was serious enough for my friends to carry me to the local clinic there and then.
After being used as a pincushion, to begin the necessary intravenous fluid administration at the basic clinic in Ko Pha Ngan, I was sent by emergency speedboat to the main Samui hospital. This would have been cool if I had not been paralysed with pain and delirium.
To be honest the quality of the nursing staff at the hospital surprised me. Excluding the agonisingly long nights, I was monitored and attended to nearly every two hours. Mostly though, these visits brought a relatively useless selection of multi-coloured vitamin tablets, which I swallowed without question in a half-conscious state. The Thai doctor’s manner was excellent, although he did fail to mention the near critical decline of the platelets in my blood and the risk of haemorrhage. Eric provided that information later. The travel insurance company, Travel & Go are also worth a recommendation. Not only did the company communicate with the medical staff and make direct payments to the hospital, they connected me with my parents.
I had known that Dengue, Malaria and other illnesses passed by mosquito, were a risk in Thailand, and was taking all the available precautions. The advice suggests repellent sprays, coils and tablets, at least during the night. Ultimately though, there is nothing that can protect you against that one rogue mosquito unlucky (or lucky for him!) to catch you unawares between visits to the sea during the daytime. The best advice is if you do start to feel feverish tell someone straight away, ideally the person you’re travelling with. If you then go on to feel flu-like symptoms visit the nearest clinic. Make sure you have your travel insurance documents with you. If it weren’t for the insurance I’d have been landed with a bill of £1,600 for my eight days in hospital, which is one unnecessary sufferance on top of the awful Fever itself.
Another point to consider regarding the insurance is to inform the company that you wish to keep the one claim open for further after-care. This way you avoid incurring another excess charge. Just before my discharge from hospital I noticed a blind spot in the core vision of my left eye, caused by the haemorrhaging, which required visits to an optometrist in Surat Thani and later in Perth, Australia. I claimed for all of this on the insurance. With that peace of mind I could spend the next two weeks recuperating on the beach. It took another month or so before I regained my normal weight and full strength.
This should not put you off travelling to Thailand, or more particularly the tranquil, yet exuberant island of Ko Pha Ngan, with all its natural beauty. When I returned this year, I was even more careful with the mosquito repellent and mindful of renewing my insurance before I arrived. Other than that I just put it in perspective that the odds were so great at contracting Dengue, particularly a second time, it was not worth the worry. The probability, I believe, is one in eight thousand, and when comparing this with other travelling hazards it is rather insignificant. Falling out of a long-tail boat is more risky, but then that’s some other travellers’ tale.