Dengue fever is no fun. I know. It is high on my list of things I NEVER want to do again. A hard lesson learned, my dengue fever experience was a big price to pay for entering the Brazilian and Paraguayan rainforest using an all-natural insect repellent.
The Aedes aegypti species mosquito transmits dengue, Zika, chikungunya and other viruses in specific tropical regions worldwide. It generally bites during the day but can also bite at night, and symptoms of dengue don’t appear for about a week.
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My dengue fever experience
Travelling through South America, we visited exciting places like Iguazu Falls, Parque das Aves bird park in Brazil, and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Strong summer heat dominated our visits, and I wore shorts, against standard advice. Naturally, the mosquitos took advantage of my bare legs. A bit of anti-itch lotion, and I was fine, or so I thought.
A week later, we were in Cafayate Argentina, a high-altitude wine region in Argentina. Life was good. We had a few days of resort luxury at a winery. Welcomed with a glass of their Malbec, we also swam at the pool, relaxed at the spa, and enjoyed the South American lifestyle.
My dengue fever experience: symptoms start in Cafayate, Argentina
I was fine. Then I was sick. And not just a little sick. The kind of sudden unwell that frightens the people around you. It started in my legs, with crushing pain that quickly grabbed a hold of my jaw, elbows, forearms, and my core.
I could barely hold the thermometer, yet the temperature gauge rose quickly. There was no question that I had a high fever. Yet before I could worry about how high, my stomach joined the party, accompanied by a raging headache manifesting with pain behind my eyes.
At first, we went to Siro Salud Dr. Rivero medical clinic in Cafayate (there was no hospital). The woman waiting next to me had an adorable puppy, but I was too sick to either care or to wonder why it was in the hospital. Two injections later, I was back at the resort asleep.
My dengue experience moves to Salta
Everything was worse in the morning. We contacted our travel insurance company, who suggested the new Hospital San Bernardo in Salta, Argentina, a larger city about 3 hours away. Despite not wanting to move, I got into the car.
Walking into the overcrowded hospital waiting room, I was too sick to notice the police and the man in handcuffs or the street dogs lazing in the corner. Jeff told me about them later.
The triage nurse asked about symptoms. Thankfully, my daughter Sarah is fluent in Spanish (although medical terms were new to her) and listed my symptoms. They asked about our travels, and the whirlwind of commotion that followed became a blur. I understood a few words like dengue, zika, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Next, they required my Yellow Fever immunization card (without it, I would have gone straight to isolation for six days). Instead, I was told to wait. I must have looked pretty bad as people offered me their seats. Surprisingly, triage put me at the head of the queue, calling me in almost immediately.
The consultation room seemed fine, and the doctor competent. He ordered some tests, drugs, and IV fluid before sending me through a door across the room and into a scene from a bad movie. Gurneys lined the hallway, most filled with catatonic-looking people, but other patients were moaning softly.
The chipped paint on the walls seemed to fit the chaos. The only empty gurney became mine, despite its plastic coating and lack of sheets or a pillow. I didn’t care, I could barely stand. Next, a blanket that had seen better days covered me.
My dengue experience continues as they send my translator away
An IV bag appeared, and then there were needles. One syringe for each tube of blood, plus mystery drugs injected. Then, the nurse told my Spanish-speaking daughter to leave. As my translator, she refused, and the nurse got security.
Thankfully, my girl refused again and somehow managed to stay for a while longer. But, when it was time to clean the floor, they made her go. She managed to cry her way back in later.
Finally, they move me to a ward, but is it the right one?
Eventually, they moved me from the hallway to a ward with 16 other patients, some naked, others moaning, and most just lying there with blank expressions. More drugs were injected, more time passed, and I woke up to a group of doctors discussing me in Spanish. Perhaps it is a teaching hospital.
Time ticks by. I carry my IV bag down the hallway passing through a small janitor’s closet to find the disgusting bathroom that had neither a seat nor toilet paper. Fortunately, we knew always to carry our own by this point.
Hours later, my doctor returns to my bedside. And if translations are correct, he said, “Good news. You don’t need surgery. This is a surgical ward. Your gallbladder is fine. We are transferring you by ambulance to a hospital for tropical diseases.”
My dengue experience continues as I am transferred by ambulance to a hospital for tropical disease
Even with my back elevated, so I sat up on the gurney, my feet touched the back door of the tiny ambulance. Sarah rode with me on the transfer. She opted not to translate the paramedic and driver’s conversation, as it involved not knowing where Sr Hospital del Milagro, the tropical disease hospital, was located.
Being wheeled in, all I could see were the filthy walls, chipped paint, and narrow hallways. Sarah had to stop at registration. I freaked out, and fortunately, the aid heard my barely audible cry of ¡Espere! (wait). I speak some Spanish but am not fluent.
Sarah returned, and I went to the isolation ward. My room had only two beds, and the other was empty. The room was clean and even had its own bathroom, a toilet with a seat, and a sink. Still no toilet paper.
Apparently, the hospitals don’t share records. They gave me more drugs, took more blood, and sent me for another x-ray.
Again, the doctors seemed excellent. They wanted to culture for more detailed results. These take three days. My options were to stay in the hospital or at the same five-star hotel we had loved on our first visit to Salta.
You know I went straight to Hotel Alejandro I. With my dengue experience continuing in paradise, I could sleep in comfort and eat from room service. I took the drugs I was released with and started to get well.
Dengue experience: the lab in photos
Somehow the hospital seemed even worse on our return visit to get more test results. I only had my phone for photos, as I was still sick. Check it out:
Practical information and tips on going to a hospital in Argentina
Our South America adventure was nine weeks, so I had time to recover long before we came home. If we had been on a more traditional week-long holiday, we would have been home before I got sick, and, for better or worse, I would have been treated in New Zealand.
- My best travel advice: Don’t get sick or injured.
- If you do, be sure the clinic uses clean needles. If not, it is okay to refuse care. This was not an issue in the facilities that cared for me, but we have heard about it from other parts of the world.
- There are both public and private hospitals in Argentina.
- Treatment at a public hospital in Argentina is free. Neither of the hospitals nor the ambulance charged us for service or drugs. In fact, we paid only about $0.20 USD for a specimen cup Jeff was sent to buy from the pharmacy.
- With more knowledge, I would have gone to a private hospital.
- Medical clinics will charge, but not that much. My Cafayete visit included two injections and cost the equivalent of $4 USD.
- Your travel insurance company may have the best intentions, but when they recommend a hospital, they are most likely doing it from a list unless they are familiar with your location.
**Also, don’t miss this general travel guide for first-time visitors to Argentina.
On travel insurance
You should not overlook travel insurance for your upcoming trip. We have partnered with InsureMyTrip, because they are the best option to compare plans and find the right coverage for you. They have thousands of travel insurance plans and a one-of-a-kind recommendation engine to help travellers find the right plan.
Most importantly, they will be there for you before, during and after your trip if you should need anything – especially help with a claim with the provider. Get a free quote from InsureMyTrip here
Preventing dengue fever
No bite, no dengue. It sounds simple. Here are a few tips to avoid having your own dengue fever experience:
- Use an appropriate insect repellent. Despite my dislike for the chemicals, I will be using an insect repellent with DEET for any future travel in the dengue region. Whichever product you choose, follow the product instructions. Tip: If you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first, let it dry, and then the repellent.
- Cover up with long sleeves and long pants during the day and sleep under mosquito netting.
- Treat your clothes with permethrin, or even better, wear permethrin-treated clothes.
- Protect others by avoiding mosquito bites that can transfer diseases after you leave the region, as not everyone infected gets sick.
- There is a dengue vaccine (2017 and available in the US since May 2019) only for those who have confirmed cases in the past. Otherwise, the vaccine may increase your risk of getting severe dengue if you get infected in the future.
- I won’t suggest staying out of any region that has the Aedes aegypti mosquito. As it’s in over 100 countries (including parts of the USA), this would be more difficult than it sounds. For traveller writers like us, it’s not going to happen.
More on dengue fever
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates an annual 400 million dengue infections worldwide. Of these, 100 million result in illness, and 22,000 will die from severe dengue. CDC has a comprehensive page on dengue.
Tropical disease is just another aspect of safety when travelling in South America.
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Have you had a dengue fever experience?
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of Vector-Borne Diseases (DVBD)
Gosh what an awful experience Rhonda 🙁 To be honest your account, particularly of your symptoms, makes me feel even worse for my son! While he was about 8 or 9 when he came down with dengue, he wasn’t able to explain how he was feeling – but to this day (15 years later) he remembers the pain!
But you’ve got some terrific tips here about utilising private hospitals that I’ve taken on board – one of the public hospitals would terrify me!
dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection causing a severe flu-like illness and sometimes causing a potentially lethal complication called severe dengue. Dengue may include high fever, headache, vomiting, muscle and joint pains. It is also known as breakbrone fever. Ratan Hopitals provide full care to their patients with the help of well-trained doctors, nurse and equipped machines.
Oh Rhonda, that sounds like a horrible experience!
Thank God you went to the hospital when you did!
Anyway, thank you for sharing this experience with us, so that we may learn.
Julie Kemp Pick
Rhonda, I’m so sorry that you had to go through such a painful and horrific experience. Thank goodness Nurse Sarah fought to stay and translate for you. I hope you are feeling 100% well now.
Wow! What a nightmare. I hope you are fully recovered now. And thanks for the tips on traveling where Dengue fever is prevalent – I didn’t know much about Dengue fever before but now I do.
Dear God Rhonda! It’s shocking to see the hospitals. I will never complain about the hospitals in Ontario, Canada. I hope that you back and getting better.
PS: It was great that your daughter was there,
Don’t worry. I am fully recovered and have a great story to tell. 🙂
So sorry you had to go through such a scary experience. And SO glad you made it through to share the saga and make sure others don’t have the same issues.
What a nightmare! You probably don’t remember a lot of it due to the fever, and that’s good. Your family must have been distraught! The peeling paint and dog in the hall (I do love dogs but not in a medical setting) are amazing. Glad you came through this experience!
OMG, you got me thinking… I’m off in the fall. Definitely bringing my DEET!
Wow, what a SUPER scary experience! I’m so sorry you had to go through that! It must have been a bit of comfort at least to have your Spanish speaking daughter there with you to help translate. I’ve never been to South America but will keep this in mind for when we do go! So glad you recovered – thanks for sharing this info!
I’m sorry to hear about this experience, Rhonda. Sounds awful. Glad you recovered; the doctors sound competent, even if their facilities were scary. Thanks for sharing your story though, it helps the rest of us. I try to use essential oils as insect repellent, too, but since I’m extremely allergic to mosquito bites, it never works for me, so I need the DEET-based ones. From now on I’ll use the same for the rest of my family, too. Glad you’re ok now, and again, thanks for sharing this experience; a good lesson in traveling.
OMG! I had C-Diff and I wanted to die & I prayed to God to please take these thoughts from my head and these hard cramps from my gut & I prayed & prayed, but sounds like He was probably busy with you. I’m so glad you lived through it. Those hospitals a dog shouldn’t have been there. Hospitals are supposed to be sanitized and germ free. That was hardly germ free. Praise God you made it through that horrible event.
OMG you poor thing, I would’ve been terrified, it sounds like a frightening experience but good thing you had your daughter with you. I know as kiwis we complain about our hospitals but compared to this we are quite blessed.
LOL- True, I will never complain about Kiwi medical again.
First off, glad you pulled through and are still able to travel and share you stories. Second, thanks for raising awareness. Thankfully, getting hospitalized abroad is not common, and it really helps hearing from someone who’s been through it. I can see how someone might completely freak out, seeing the conditions without any forewarning. Surely, you’d think the end was near. Also, good to know what to expect from – and better, how to avoid – an infection like Dengue. Sharing this on our social feeds to help spread the word.
That sounds awful. I sincerely hope you’re all recovered now. I know a few people who have had Dengue but I haven’t experienced it personally, thank goodness. I’m always extra careful when I travel to Central and South America because the mosquito born illnesses are so awful.
Oh my goodness – what an awful experience. We are headed to Africa for a year or so next year so will be taking lots of precautions! Hope you are completely over it all now.
Really its a great to cover this and sharing really Dengue is not a normal for all some time it Is very dangerous fever for your life i have been lost One friend due to this fever so i It is horrible for me
Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
Not an experience I would like to have. I am glad you are okay now. When D and I were young and foolish we went to Malaysia and didn’t give tropical diseases, like Dengue Fever or Malaria a second thought. We both got sick – me very sick. Luckily we were in Sydney by the time my symptoms hit and I was able to be treated by my old GP (were lived in Hong Kong and were just visiting Sydney). He was perplexed and worried but I was too sick to care. We have been super careful about mozzies every since.
What a terrible experience. Thank you for sharing such a dreadful event. I am thinking of going to South America next year. If I do i will make sure i take as many precautions as possible.
Hi Rhonda – I wondered why you hadn’t been around much – but assumed it was travelling .. but not in ambulances. Gosh – that was some nightmare experience … just so glad the family were with you and particularly Sarah with her Spanish. Crumbs I feel for you … so glad you’re feeling better – thanks for writing it up, and accompany with ‘appropriate’ photos … not nice at all. Hilary
While I have never become really serious about traveling to an area that has dengue fever, I will admit that in my reading about dengue (previous to your blog post), the idea of visiting one of these countries always gives me pause due to dengue fever. I’m so sorry you got sick. Thanks for telling about your experience. I will be sharing your post.
Glad you come out of that horrifying experience. Getting ill on trips is part and parcel of traveling. The part of traveling that we try to avoid as best as we can.
Lydia C. Lee
God that’s awful. Does it now mean you’re to avoid anywhere with Dengue cos your liver will collapse or something? Or is that yellow fever? Hope you’re fully recovered now
It’s not dengue. It does mean I have to be more careful because if you get it twice you are at higher risk of severe dengue (the strain more likely to kill you). I don’t want that. I was immunized against yellow fever.
Good Lord, Rhonda – you’ve totally cured me of any vague desire to visit in tropical climes! So glad you recovered. What a miserable experience for you!
At this point after reading your typical travel post, I am envious and want to go where you where. Today that is NOT the case. No dengue fever please. Hoping you are back to your normal healthy self.
Oh wow, I am so sorry you were sick while traveling. The hospitals sounds scary. The dengue fever sounds scary too. The bug repellent is a must. Iguaza Falls is on my hubby’s bucket list. Thanks for sharing! Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy new week!
This is terrifying. I have been wanting to travel to other countries, but contracting an illness is a concern. What worried me when reading your post was how many times you received an IV of drugs. How did you know what they were giving you and if you would have any reactions to it. I try to use essential oils for my bug repellent as well; but I think there’s something to be said for using DEET. Glad you are feeling better!
Yes, this worried me too, especially after my blood pressure shot up to a terrifying level and the doctor told me I had hypertension. (I don’t).
Oh my! Such an awful, scary experience! Thank you for sharing your experience and thereby educating others. Are you back to your old self now?
Yes, now I am. This all happened in December, so it’s been 7 months. I was still getting bad leg cramps for about two months after all other symptoms went away, but no more.
So sorry to hear that you had dengue. It’s endemic in Singapore where I spend a lot of time (and in 100 countries as you wrote) but they have great hospitals and medical care.
Gosh what a horrid experience for you. One of my closest friends almost died from the same thing while in Asia and spent a long time in ICU. Glad you’re okay and thanks for sharing.
It’s hard to comprehend what it would have been like. Thank you so much for sharing this.
This is a horrible experience and I’m so sorry you had to go through it all! However, I found your post very helpful. I’ve gotten sick a few times traveling but never like this. Honestly getting so ill in a foreign country is scary to me. We too have been traveling with natural insect repellant, but after reading this, I think I’ll be switching back to DEET products!
Oh my gosh Rhonda, what a scary experience!! I too always get biten by mosquitos so I’ve to be extra careful in these regions. I must admit, those pics of the hospital didn’t look great at all. I’ve found a really great repellent without Deet and it’s also recommended by the WHO.
I’m sure it was all very frightening to everyone. I am glad it has a happy ending, and thank you for the knowledge and tips.
What a scary experience! I’ve always worries more about malaria than dengue but didn’t realise how bad dengue can be. Always cover myself in 50% DEET when in Brazil or areas with malaria.
Your experience sounds harrowing. I’ve seen similar hospitals in rural Thailand and I can’t imagine being so sick, vulnerable and helpless in one of them. So lucky that you had your family with you. And thank you for the tip about the proper mosquito repellent. I’ve been leaning towards the ones with natural ingredients, but now will never consider them again for the regions with mosquito-transmitted diseases. I’m glad this frightening experience is now behind you.
Omgoodness how scary…Im glad you survived it all. xx
oh my God! I am so happy you are ok now. That is such a horrible and scary experience! Thank you for sharing it with us, I too believe it is important
Catherine Santiago Jose
I feel so sorry for what you’ve experience in that trip. Dengue is a traitor illness for me earlier you are okay and enjoying then after you will immediately get sick and it will get worst if its not taking care properly.
Dengue Fever is really a frightening disease. I heard that this disease happens in any part of the world. I hope you are feeling well now.
So sorry to read about your dengue experience. Dengue sounds horrible. A friend of mine, whom I visited in Thailand a few years ago, had had dengue fever in the past and made clear to me that it’s DEET all the way when traveling up there to avoid getting bit and infected. Good thing that you were in a place were healthcare was good and that you didn’t have to pay for it! Hope you’ll never get sick on vacation again!
Oh my goodness. That place looks mighty nasty. I know, if you’re sick you just want someone to make you better. Don’t get sick. I get it.
I’m glad you’re all better now.
Have a fabulous day and weekend, Rhonda. ♥
I am so sorry you went through this!!! This is hard for sure! I’ve never heard of Dengue fever before!! Everyone should read your post if they’re planning on traveling abroad. Thanks for sharing.
OH goodness what an awful experience. I am happy to hear you have recovered from that. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the traveler tips. Getting sick on a trip is always very unpleasant. As you mentioned, going to the doctor immediately is always the best. I hope you are better!
wow that is terrifying. praise the lord that you are ok! its great you are educating everyone now
I know how scary Dengue fever can be as my brother was hospitalized in Malaysia due to Dengue fever. I also want to thank you for raising awareness in this post as I will be traveling to South America end of year 2020 (which is also a summer and great season for mosquitoes) for three weeks because flying from Asia is just too far and we only want to make it once in our lifetime. I will prepare to take a precausion, insects repellents and make sure insurance is on point. Thanks again.
What an experience you have had and I am so glad you got better in the end. This is a great post for those who are travelling to Argentina so that they are well prepared and clued up on Dengue Fever.
A well-written account. Hopefully people will benefit from reading it. Sometimes good stories come from bad experiences!
What a horrific experience, Rhonda. Getting sick when you travel is bad enough, but getting sick in South America is terrifying! I wonder if we get dengue fever in other parts of the world as well, or it’s just something specific for South America. At any rate, it’s good that you always buy travel insurance. In South America the costs are low, but in other parts of the world you would get ripped off!