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Nicola Hill (UK): dengue, an infection with far-reaching consequences

Nicola Hill is an acclaimed British health journalist and seasoned traveller. When dengue fever hit her while meeting with her daughter in Bali, Nicola's trip was ruined but in addition her outlook for future travel to tropical regions was changed forever. This is Nicola's story.

It was the rash that made me seek medical help; it was the final symptom that made me think this wasn't flu but possibly something more serious. I had been suffering with a headache and increasing exhaustion for the past 7 days, no longer able to leave the sofa of our rented villa, not even to watch the dancing I had been so looking forward to seeing in Uluwatu, Bali.

Despite being a health journalist for more than 20 years, I thought I was fighting off a flu virus that my daughter must have brought with her from Australia (we were meeting up 6 months after she had left England to go travelling.) I didn't have a raging fever, nor feel that all my bones were breaking - just a pain in my upper back, no appetite and growing weakness. But when I woke up with a rash all over my body I realised this was serious and I needed medical help.

Within 4 hours I was tucked up in a hospital bed, an intravenous drip full of vitamins in my arm and the words dengue fever floating around the room. This diagnosis was confirmed two days later. My blood platelet count was extremely low and my liver enzyme count was definitely not healthy.

Thankfully I had full travel insurance and was being treated in a very swish private hospital in Nusa Dua. But it was not the holiday accommodation I had planned, nor was it much fun for my worried family.

I had to wait until my blood tests were nearly back to normal to be given a fit to fly letter which allowed me to return home to the UK, and then I continued to be monitored by my own GP for several weeks. And it did take that length of time for me to gain enough energy to feel reasonably healthy again. However six months later I have noticed that my immune system is not as strong as usual, having succumbed to two viruses since.

That one mosquito bite had a major effect on my life. Not only did it ruin a much longed for, and expensive holiday, it has also made me wary of returning to countries where dengue is endemic, especially knowing that a second infection can be more serious. So I strongly feel more needs to be done to educate people about dengue fever, especially travellers from countries where it doesn’t exist. But more importantly it needs to be prevented; vaccines and ways to genetically modify mosquitoes need to be implemented now.

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