‘Body felt like it was on fire’: 3 S’poreans share their ‘terrible’ experiences catching dengue thrice

3 Singaporeans share their harrowing experiences catching dengue thrice

Mosquitoes may be tiny, but they sure can cause a lot of pain. Just ask anyone who has ever been down with dengue, the viral infection carried by these puny pests.

Unfortunately, dengue cases appear to be on the rise in Singapore. According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), over 5,000 dengue cases were reported in the first quarter of 2024 — more than double the 2,360 cases reported in the same period last year.

Earlier, MS News ran a poll asking: “How many times have you been diagnosed with dengue?

While 72% of almost 2,000 respondents voted “zero times”, here’s the shocking reality: up to 75% of dengue infections fly under the radar without any symptoms, the Ministry of Health (MOH) warned.

In other words, you could be infected without realising it or mistake it for another illness that leaves you feeling just as crummy.

This was precisely the case for Jerry Chia, Joleen Teo, and Irina Chandran, three Singaporeans who each battled dengue three times. Read on for their stories.

Took months to regain strength

When a fever snuck up to Jerry in 2002, he didn’t suspect dengue.

dengue experiences

Source: agafapaperiapunta on Canva, for illustration purposes only

Even when it returned a couple of days later “with a vengeance”, bringing headaches, fatigue, and body aches along with it, he dismissed it as a passing bug. No doctor’s visit necessary.

Fast forward to the following year, and the same symptoms reared their ugly heads, this time with nasty rashes.

A check-up at Changi General Hospital, where he was later warded, confirmed Jerry had dengue. Tests showed two serotypes in his blood, indicating a previous encounter.

“That’s how I realised my first infection was the year before,” the 70-year-old retiree told MS News.

Dengue is caused by four different viruses known as serotypes. Recovering from one grants immunity to that type for a few months but increases the risk of severe illness from the others, explaining why Jerry’s subsequent infections were worse.

dengue experiences

Source: witsawat sananrum on Canva, for illustration purposes only

The recovery was tougher than he expected.

“It took months to regain my strength,” he recalled. “Even my usual morning walks were exhausting.”

Jerry caught dengue a third time in 2019 while living on Margate Road, a dengue hotspot back then. His wife and son were diagnosed at the same time, which isn’t surprising given that dengue can easily spread to loved ones and neighbours if the same infected mosquito bites them.

While none of them were hospitalised, they all described their experiences with the same word: miserable.

“For me, the inability to sleep was the worst,” Jerry shared. “Every side I tried to sleep on wasn’t comfortable so I kept tossing and turning non-stop both day and night.”

So all three infections were different, but they were all terrible to go through.

Had bleeding gums & felt like body was ‘on fire’

Much like Jerry, Joleen had no clue the first time she brushed shoulders with dengue, which came and went like a ninja or a thief in the night.

Then, bam! A fever hit her hard during the circuit breaker period in 2020, and she went to the hospital. She was told to go home, monitor her fever, and race to the accident and emergency (A&E) department if it didn’t go down after six days.

Those six days were agonising.

“I felt like I was in a fever dream,” said the 34-year-old information services manager.

I couldn’t sleep even with the air conditioner at 18°C because my body felt like it was on fire.

Source: PBXStudio on Canva, for illustration purposes only

When her temperature wouldn’t quit hanging around 39°C to 40°C, Joleen heeded instructions and returned to the hospital, where she tested positive for dengue.

Turns out, it wasn’t her first rodeo with dengue as there were multiple serotypes in her blood, suggesting it was her second or third bout.

“The doctor said it’s common for the first infection to pass as a common cold,” she shared.

Fever aside, Joleen wrestled with muscle aches all over, bleeding gums, and a brain fog that made even simple tasks such as watching TV, reading, or gaming difficult for two weeks.

dengue experiences

Source: staticnak1983 on Canva, for illustration purposes only

As for where she might’ve picked up the disease, she suspects it could either be in her Geylang neighbourhood — a possible dengue hotspot — or at her parents’ home in Novena.

Either way, it’s certainly not an experience she’s itching to relive.

Having dengue was ‘worse than Covid’

When 45-year-old writer Irina had her first brush with dengue in her teens, she was still well enough to go to school, only scoring a free pass from physical education (PE) classes.

Her second encounter in 2013, however, was a different story.

“The joint pains were excruciating,” she told MS News. “It was so much worse than Covid.”

dengue experiences

Source: SHOTPRIME on Canva, for illustration purposes only

Despite her agony, the hospital deemed her case mild and sent her home after a quick check-up.

However, Irina soon found herself back in the hospital after vomiting from a severe headache. She also experienced low blood pressure and was warded.

Source: stockvisual on Canva, for illustration purposes only

Thankfully, her three-day hospital stay was relatively uneventful. Although she developed red spots on her skin, just like during her first dengue bout, they weren’t itchy and subsided quickly.

When the rashes reappeared in 2017, Irina knew dengue had struck her a third time.

“There was no fever, but I had a backache and felt weak,” she recalled. “There was also some joint pain, but it was nowhere near as bad as the second round.”

Practise steps to protect yourself from dengue

As the saying goes: once bitten, twice shy. Jerry, Joleen, and Irina have certainly taken this to heart, ramping up their efforts to foil mosquito breeding at home.

“We have always been mindful to check all risk areas and practise B-L-O-C-K at home,” Jerry emphasised. “We also apply mosquito repellent when we go out for walks at night.”

Applying mosquito repellent is also part of the S-A-W steps, which are:

  • Spray insecticide in dark corners around the house
  • Apply insect repellent regularly
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants

These steps are recommended for those dealing with dengue or who suspect they might be, to prevent further bites and curb the spread of the virus.

And here’s a quick refresh on those B-L-O-C-K steps:

  • Break up hardened soil
  • Lift and empty flowerpot plates
  • Overturn pails and wipe their rims
  • Change water in vases
  • Keep roof gutters clear and place BTI insecticide

Source: ThamKC on Canva, for illustration purposes only

These aren’t just house chores — they’re crucial in keeping Aedes mosquitoes, the main transmitters of dengue, at bay.

Vases and pots aren’t the only places to look out for. For instance, Joleen keeps the toilet seat cover down when she leaves her home for long holidays in case the stagnant water inside the bowl attracts mosquitoes.

With the Singapore population’s immunity to all four Dengue virus serotypes remaining low, staying vigilant isn’t just a choice — it’s a responsibility to safeguard ourselves, our loved ones, and our community.

For more information, visit NEA’s Clean & Green Singapore website and follow the campaign’s Facebook and Instagram pages for all the latest updates.

In the fight against mosquitoes, every water-filled nook and cranny is a potential battleground, but together, we can do our part to keep Singapore safe and buzzing with health.

This article was brought to you in collaboration with Clean & Green Singapore in support of the Year of Public Hygiene.

Featured image adapted from PBXStudio on Canva and witsawat sananrum on Canva, for illustration purposes only.

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