Dengue Fever: It Doesn’t Always Happen to Other People

By Lor Chandara
November 25, 2005

A warning to parents: If you spot unusual red dots on your child’s body, please investigate quickly because it very well might turn out to be dengue fever.

During the recent Water Festival, my wife spotted three red bumps, which she suspected to be mosquito bites, on our six-year-old son Ted’s back.

My wife mentioned offhand that she hoped our first grader hadn’t contracted dengue fever from a mosquito, since we had seen more of the insects buzzing around indoors over the last few months.

We tucked him into bed, worried but not excessively so. But when Ted abruptly went into a very high fever and complained of nightmares as he lay in sweat-soaked sheets, uneasiness began to take hold of us.

I voiced the hope that Ted was simply suffering from a fever that we could control with first aid, such as giving him some Paracetamol and cooling his body with a wet cloth. After all, the weekend was a very busy and happy one for our six-year-old since he and his older brother finally talked us into taking them to the Chenla Theater to see the “Crocodile Hunter” film.

But during the movie, which he was so excited to see, Ted fell asleep and felt a bit feverish. When we returned home about two hours later, he continued to feel hot and lay down on the floor without speaking.

That night, my wife and I tried everything we could think of to bring his steadily increasing fever down and ease his discomfort. But all our efforts proved useless.

First thing the next morning, we took Ted to a private children’s clinic off Sihanouk Boulevard. After a long night of vomiting, dehydration and fever, Ted had blue marks around his eyes, marking his exhaustion.

Dr Yit Sunnara of the Khemera Clinic gave my son a checkup and tested his blood. Based on the test results, Yit Sunnara told us that he suspected that Ted had contracted dengue fever and scheduled a follow-up. When the results of the second blood test came in, we found out our son had tested positive for the mosquito-borne disease.

Without hesitating, we sent Ted to the upstairs clinic room, where he was expected to stay for nearly two days. During these anxious hours, our son’s fever continued as medicine from an intravenous drip was fed into a vein. Relatives of ours, less inclined to private medical care, zipped in and out to pay Ted and his unsettled parents regular visits.

We kept our little son, normally so active and energetic, in the clinic’s bed beyond the doctor’s 40-hour recommendation. Ultimately, Ted, whose fever gradually began to wane, stayed at the clinic for four more days so Yit Sunnara could follow up on his condition.

On the seventh day of treatment, the red dots on Ted’s back faded away. He complained that his body was a bit itchy, which our physician said was a sign that the disease was fading. We were so relieved, the $184 bill—which was made up of a $45 room rental, $45 for treatment, $82 for medicine (including seven intravenous bottles) and $12 for blood tests—was worth it.

The cost broke the hearts of some of our close relatives, but we knew it was worth it to prevent the sometimes killer disease of children from claiming our precious son.

Now, Ted is back to happily riding his bike around and imitating his favorite wrestling hero. Never has the everyday noise of childhood sounded so sweet to my ears.

But the disease that could have claimed Ted is still at large because the Stung Meanchey sewage canal, which offers a permanent pool of larvae spots for mosquitoes, is just about 95 steps away from our Phnom Penh home.

I am afraid that the majority of our fellow residents are far less fortunate and cannot afford to pay such costly medical bills to ensure their child’s safety. Public hospital service must get better so our son’s recovery can be something experienced by others struggling to get by.