Getting Dengue Fever in SE Asia

I have spent the past five years traveling abroad never needing to use my travel insurance. Until a few weeks ago, my travels have all been very smooth. I have never been robbed, injured or sick enough to need to go to the hospital. For traveling in SE Asia, I’ve been warned of mosquitos that can carry lots of different viruses and that I need to be taking my malaria pills. Our first stop in SE Asia was Bali, Indonesia. I had been keeping an eye out for mosquitos and literally saw two. I had Luke kill one that was in our hotel room. Then one morning right before we were leaving Bali we both woke up with some bites on our legs. I honestly wasn’t even sure that they were mosquito bites. Spoiler alert- they were.

Symptoms and Fear

It was crazy how fast the symptoms came on. Just 48 hours prior, we were in Bali, having a great time relaxing on the beach. Then we were out visiting cool spots in our next stop, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We had a great day! Both of us felt fine all day even though we woke up quite early to catch the monkeys at Batu Caves. After dinner, we walked back our hotel and I started to feel a bit weak. Then within an hour I was under the blankets shivering with chills, yet burning up with a fever.

After two hours of feeling awful, Luke went out and bought me a thermometer. He came back with one of those non digital block thermostats and followed the instructions. This told us I was probably above 102 degrees, but it was not very specific. So we called our travel insurance and found a hospital nearby just in case things got worse.

I had a little cold and fever about two weeks before this in Nusa Penida, Indonesia- nothing that a bit of rest and NyQuil couldn’t take care of. But this was different. In a matter of two hours I went from being perfectly fine to seriously debating on going to the emergency room. After texting with my mom, whose rule is if it is over 103 degrees it is serious, we decided to take me to the nearest hospital.

The hospital was only a couple of minutes away and there was no taxi or Grab that would pick us up. Even though there was a thunderstorm, which I loathe, and was not sure I could make it to the emergency room, Luke and I walked slowly to the hospital because I needed help. I swear at one point this man on the street looked at me as though he had seen a ghost. I knew I was feeling awful and having a hard time but this man’s look scared me even more.

Arriving at the Emergency Room

Waiting to be admitted in the hospital

When we finally arrived to the hospital, I was burning up and falling asleep in the waiting room while Luke got me checked in. At this point, I was wondering what would have happened to me if we did not come. I knew it was bad. After a 10-15 minute wait they called my name and sat me in a chair in the lobby to do an initial consult. The man took my blood pressure and asked how many days I have had a fever. I told him about 4 hours. He looked at me confused as to why I was even in the hospital. Then he took my temperature and it was over 104 degrees. They admitted me to the emergency room immediately.

They let me lay down in a hospital bed and started asking me the usual questions. I told them about 48 hours ago we arrived from Bali by plane and I was feeling totally fine until a couple hours ago. She asked if my stomach hurt, and it did. But I hadn’t thrown up and it might just be because I was scared of the situation.

The doctor was very worried about how high and sudden my fever came on. She said she could give me an injection or a pill to help it come down but the injection would work faster. I chose the injection because I was in so much pain. They made Luke leave to go put down a deposit and give me time to rest. A minute later the nurse was there to give me the injection.

After the injection, they started an IV to give me fluids. After about 3 hours, I was feeling much better and ready to go back to our hotel for sleep since it was already midnight. They gave me two prescriptions and told me to come back in 24 hours if nothing had changed. The total bill for several hours in the ER and the prescriptions was $53 USD! I was in shock! I couldn’t believe I was scared to get the help I needed because of the cost (thank you, USA, for making me scared to go to the doctor because of cost!).

The Following Day

During the next day, we did nothing but relax in the hotel room. My fever came and went with the cycle of the drugs. When they were wearing off, I became miserable and my fever came back full swing. Realizing I was not really improving, and spending too much time on Google with my symptoms, we decided to go back to the emergency room to get tests done.

Going to the Emergency Room, Again

When I arrived, they did lots of tests. I was pretty sure they were going to come back telling me I had malaria. They put an IV in me to keep me hydrated while I was waiting for the results of the blood tests. They made Luke wait in the waiting room so I was all alone, which after 4 months traveling together nonstop was scary. All the sudden the doctor came over and told me I tested positive for Dengue Fever! I was stunned. I think one mosquito bit me while we were in Bali! I was also very scared. I wanted them to get Luke immediately because I was going to cry.

The doctor told me I should be admitted to the hospital because this is serious. He advised a hospital nearby that caters more to tourists, so we called our travel insurance and made sure this other hospital was in our network and that they could guarantee payment to that hospital. At about 12:20am we took a taxi from one hospital to the other. Maybe it was from fear of knowing what I had, but this was probably the worst I felt during my entire dengue fever experience. We arrived at the other emergency room and my blood pressure seemed so low. My fever was there again and I felt like fainting. They ended up admitting me and within an hour they brought me upstairs to my room. I was introduced to the nurses and told that they will be checking my vitals every 4 hours no matter the time of day. They gave me an IV and then let me go to sleep.

A Week Later

Seven days later, I was released from the hospital. During my time being admitted to the hospital, I basically slept while the hospital did daily blood tests, gave me fluids, and pain medicine to keep my fever down. I slept, and slept, and slept. I couldn’t even eat some days. I would sit up and fall asleep trying to eat. My back started hurting terribly bad after about 3 days of constantly laying in bed! I was stuck to an IV the entire time. Every time I needed to go to the bathroom I had to bring it with me. It wasn’t until the last day or two in the hospital that I began eating normally again and being able to keep my eyes open long enough to watch Netflix. Luke was also able to sleep in the room on a fold out sofa bed which made me feel more comfortable.

Coming Back for Blood Tests

After being released from the hospital, we booked a hotel for a week in Kuala Lumpur. The doctor advised me to take it very easy, saying I was basically on house arrest in the hotel in order to give my body time to recover. Two days later, I went back to the hospital for my appointment to get blood work done. My doctor said the results were not yet improved enough for me to travel. So we had to come back for more blood tests in 4 days making sure I was resting and drinking enough water. Another 4 days of resting and hydration, my blood tests came back relatively normal! So my doctor gave me the okay to travel again (as long as I took it slow and did not over do anything)! The next day we hopped on a flight to Cambodia!

Prevention

There is no vaccine nor pills you can take to avoid getting dengue fever. What you can do is be proactive about putting on mosquito repellent, wearing longer, looser clothing, and sleeping under a mosquito net. I was not doing any of those in Bali, mostly because I had only spotted one during our stay. Reality is, there doesn’t need to be swarms of mosquitoes for you to be in danger of bites or the dreaded dengue. Now I always have my mosquito repellent on me and wear longer clothing for protection.

The Importance of Travel Insurance

If there is one thing this experience has taught me it is that when traveling, travel insurance is non negotiable. If I didn’t have travel insurance, our trip would have had to end almost two months sooner. My total hospital bill for two visits to the ER, six nights in the hospital, and two blood work appointments after being released were $2,518.33 USD in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. To put this in perspective, I had meningitis about 3 years ago and was hospitalized in the USA for 5 nights and my bill was over $25,000. I received the same level of care that I did in the USA and the cost was almost 10x less! My travel insurance is going to be paying for the whole thing anyway! I recommend Allianz Travel Insurance. They have been wonderful in taking care of the situation and covering the costs.

The Highs and Lows of Travel

In the end, getting dengue fever set us back 10 days in our trip. This was quite sad because we had to put off meeting up with my best friend in Cambodia. Dengue fever is obviously not very fun- same with being in a hospital. But at least I was able to catch it fast and receive great care where I am healthy and able to travel again. I also will not have any long term effects from the virus, thank goodness! Thanks to my travel insurance, it didn’t cost us any extra money besides booking another hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Sometimes travel is amazing and sometimes you get bitten with one mosquito in Bali and get dengue fever. That’s life! Sometimes you get unlucky, but that is no need to keep you from traveling!

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