A man who died at the Cayman Islands hospital in mid-January with dengue hemorrhagic fever waited almost five days before seeking medical attention for his condition.
The man, who had recently returned to Cayman from Jamaica, eventually presented to the hospital in a critical condition but died within a matter of hours.
The death underscores just how important it is for anyone with dengue fever-like symptoms to seek urgent medical attention, public health officials are stressing.
‘Anyone returning from a country with dengue fever that has developed flu-like symptoms should contact a doctor immediately,’ said Dr. Kiran Kumar, director of Public Health.
Toxicology and pathology results are yet to confirm whether dengue fever was the sole cause of death or whether there were other health issues at play.
Mr. Kumar pointed out that cases of dengue fever are not usually fatal.
However DHF is a more severe form of the disease that is usually only contracted by someone that has previously been infected with a different strand of dengue fever.
While DHF is potentially fatal, it can be treated if medical attention is sought early, Mr. Kumar explained.
The deceased man was one of two people to have tested positive for dengue fever in the Cayman Islands since the New Year.
Mr. Kumar said there remains no evidence of the disease being transmitted locally with both patients having recently returned from countries where dengue fever is endemic.
Of 80 people tested for the disease between October 2007 and 4 February 2008, 12 have tested positive for the disease. Dr. Kumar said all of the confirmed cases had travelled to a dengue-endemic country prior to contracting the disease.
The local death comes at a time when Caribbean and Central American countries are reporting an upsurge of dengue fever.
According to the Pan American Health Organisation there were 27,232 cases of dengue fever and 537 cases of DHF recorded in the Caribbean in 2007, leading to 63 deaths. Central America recorded 122,865 cases of dengue fever and 12,666 cases of DHF, resulting in 41 reported deaths.
Countries in the region where the disease is endemic include Jamaica, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana and Puerto Rico.
While the disease is not endemic to the Cayman Islands, Hurricane Ivan spawned a 1,300 per cent increase in the population of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, a potential dengue fever vector.
According to the Public Health Department, symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of fever, with severe headache, muscle and joint pains, usually four to seven days after the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.
Patients may also develop nausea, vomiting and bright red rashes on their chest, arms, legs and face.
In milder cases, the disease can be misdiagnosed as the common flu because of similar symptoms.
Dengue fever cannot be transmitted from person to person, but the Aedes mosquito can transmit the disease to healthy people after biting someone infected with the disease.
There is no vaccine or treatment for dengue fever.