Dengue vs Normal Viral Fever: What’s The Difference?

With the spike in dengue fever cases, it’s important to spot early signs and seek immediate treatment. Learn the differences between dengue and viral fever in this article.

by Calvyn Ee

Dengue fever is a concerning health issue in many tropical and subtropical countries such as Malaysia. Recently, it was revealed that dengue fever cases in the country – from January to June 3rd – had increased substantially from the previous year: 48,712 cases were reported in this period compared to 18,883 cases in the same period last year.

The sharp increase is indeed alarming. The director-general of health has advised the public to be aware if any of their loved ones may be experiencing symptoms of dengue, such as “high fever accompanied by pain behind the eyes.” Early detection can potentially save lives. However, dengue fever symptoms can still be mistaken as a case of viral fever, especially with the weather being what it is these days.

Being able to tell the difference between viral and dengue fever is therefore paramount to safeguarding your loved ones when they are severely ill.

Signs and Symptoms of Dengue Fever


Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral disease, specifically by the Aedes mosquito. In many cases, a person infected with dengue may not exhibit any symptoms at all. However, if they do, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of high fever, usually above 40°C
  • Severe headache
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Joint/muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands

If you live in an area identified as being a potential Aedes breeding ground, it’s advised that you immediately get a checkup done if you suddenly fall ill at any time to minimize the health risks.

How are Viral Fever and Dengue Fever Different?

While both conditions involve high fever, there are some fundamental differences to take note of. The most obvious difference would be that dengue fever is transmitted by infected Aedes mosquitos, while viral fevers are due to viruses that cause a viral infection that may affect different parts of the body. Viral fevers may sometimes be mistaken as stemming from bacterial infections since they tend to share a few similar symptoms. A medical checkup by a doctor will be able to tell the difference between a viral and a bacterial infection.

Also, note that both dengue and viral fevers also generally don’t lead to complications in most people infected by either disease. However, in some cases, there may be health complications that develop sometime after infection.

Viral Fevers Spread Multiple Ways

Where dengue fever only spreads through Aedes mosquito bites, viral fever can affect you or your loved ones in many different ways. As mentioned earlier, most viral fevers may start from a bacterial or viral infection, usually stemming from the influenza virus (a.k.a., the common cold). A person with a viral fever who coughs or sneezes could spread it to others; it may even spread from touch.

Dengue Fever Can Be Life-Threatening

In most cases, you’ll quickly recover from a viral fever after taking medications and getting enough rest. There are instances where a viral fever can lead to more serious health complications, but these are very rare. However, dengue fever is not something to take lightly. While severe dengue doesn’t always affect everyone, complications can still arise if it’s not treated quickly.

Warning signs of severe dengue may occur as the dengue fever begins to subside. If you or your loved one start experiencing the symptoms of severe dengue – including persistent abdominal pain or vomiting – quickly head to the closest hospital for examination. 

Areas At Risk of Dengue Require Immediate Attention

Viral fevers can happen to anyone at any time, while dengue fever generally occurs in areas where Aedes mosquitos can freely breed. Mosquitos generally breed in standing, or stagnant, water that collects in places such as used automobile tires, exposed containers, flower vases, and so forth. If your area has been identified as a possible Aedes breeding ground, you should get yourself and your loved ones screened for dengue as an early precaution.

Contracting Dengue Fever Grants (Some) Immunity

A viral fever occurs due to any number of viruses that might have affected you or your loved one. Because of this, getting another bout of viral fever may be due to another virus affecting you – and it can happen even days after you’ve recovered from the first one. You can still be infected by the same virus, too.

With dengue fever, once you’ve made a full recovery, you get some relief in the form of immunity. The good news is that you’ll be immune to that particular type of dengue for the rest of your life. The not-so-good news is that it doesn’t apply to the other serotypes of dengue; you do get temporary immunity, but it’s only for a very short period of time.

Diagnosing Dengue

A diagnosis of dengue fever can be tricky since it does share some similarities with other diseases like chikungunya, Zika virus, and even malaria. Being in an area that is a possible/known Aedes breeding ground does increase your risk of contracting dengue. You may be asked a number of questions regarding your whereabouts prior to falling ill so that the doctors can identify if you live or pass by a possible/known breeding ground.

If you’ve been bitten by a mosquito prior to falling ill, do also bring this up with the doctors. It’s possible you may have been bitten by an infected mosquito.

What to Do If You Have Dengue Fever

There is no specific treatment for dengue fever and severe dengue. It mostly involves treating symptoms that arise and ensuring that it doesn’t worsen, such as the fever. Most cases can be treated from the comfort of home and won’t require a lot of medical attention. It’s only when it develops into severe dengue that it requires more medical attention to prevent it from becoming very serious.

The most important thing you can do is to get enough rest. If you’re having mild dengue fever, drink plenty of water and take your medical prescriptions as indicated. Take paracetamol to help control the fever, and be sure to avoid medications that contain aspirin; your doctor will let you know what you can and can’t take. Use a towel or sponge with cold water to help reduce the fever. You or your loved one should make a full recovery within a week.

Look out for signs of severe dengue and notify the doctor if you notice any of these signs. Even if it might not be a symptom of severe dengue, any sudden changes should still be noted to reduce the risk of other complications arising. Warning signs generally appear in 24-48 hours once the fever subsides.

Prevention Tips for Home

Currently, the best form of prevention is to not be bitten by the Aedes mosquito – easier said than done, that’s for sure. However, a guaranteed prevention tip is to keep your house clean to prevent the mosquitos from breeding. Find any unwanted containers that can retain water around your home and dispose of them in a way that they can’t collect any more water. If you have any potted plants, you should also change the water regularly and clean the insides of the pots or vases they’re housed in.

If there might be open containers that you need to use, keep them close with a lid, even if it’s a makeshift one. That way, you can prevent mosquitos from laying their eggs in the water that collects in that container. If you can, buy larvicides and add them to wherever there might be water; make sure to use them at the recommended dose. Keeping your environment clean can protect you from mosquito bites if they don’t have the opportunity to breed and multiply.

You can even buy and set up mosquito netting to prevent mosquitos from entering your home, or even use mosquito repellent spray or other similar items, such as coils, electric vapour mats, and vaporisers. These can be useful as a second line of defense from mosquitos. If you do use repellent sprays, use them with caution if you have young children or elderly persons in the house, as the gas emitted may contain harmful chemicals that can cause health complications.

Wear clothing that covers as much of your body as possible so mosquitos can’t bite you, be it at home or when you go out. There are types of mosquito repellent that come in the form of small adhesive pads which you can put on your clothing; most available on the market are safe to use (as long as they’re not consumed!), but be sure to check beforehand for health reasons. You want to make sure you’re not allergic to the substances contained in these repellents.

Caregiving and Dengue Prevention

If you’re caregiving for someone with dengue fever, you should make sure that they’re comfortable as they rest and recover. Keep an eye on possible signs that might indicate the dengue has become more severe and have them taken to the hospital as quickly as possible. However, there might be instances where something else comes up that prevents you from being there for your loved one. It can be quite frustrating and stressful when these situations arise.

Don’t despair, though: here at Homage, we can alleviate your worries! Our highly trained Care Pros are here to help you take on your caregiving duties while you settle whatever urgent matter has come up. Rest assured that the assigned Care Pro will be able to provide companionship for your loved one, help take care of their medical needs, look after them, and give you peace of mind.

Our Care Pros are equipped to provide their elderly care services for even an hour. If you need their help for a longer period of time, we can help you with that too! Download our app now to find out more and start booking quality care for your loved one!


About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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