This post will cover our experience with Dengue Fever in Costa Rica. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus and symptoms typically begin three to fourteen days after infection.
We thought this post would be helpful not only for those of you who are traveling to Costa Rica, as Dengue Fever is prevalent in the area, but also for anyone traveling to a tropical or subtropical area.
IMPORTANT: We are not doctors so if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of Dengue Fever it’s best if you visit your local clinic or hospital to speak with a doctor/medical professional. It’s important to see a doctor not only to get an accurate diagnosis, but the dengue virus affects the blood platelets which are responsible for clotting and in turn increase the tendency for a person to bleed and can cause hospitalization. The following is strictly an account of our experience.
**Also, we wanted to include this at the top before you read about our experience, don’t be afraid to visit a country that has the mosquitos that carry the dengue virus. We spoke with so many locals who had lived in Puerto Viejo their whole life and never contracted the virus. I guess it was just dumb luck on our part, haha!
To start we didn’t know anything about Dengue Fever before we both contracted the virus. After having had the virus we don’t feel like this would have changed our plans to come to Costa Rica, however, we would have done a few things differently in the beginning, but before we get to that here was our experience.
We arrived in Costa Rica on November 14th and two days later we headed to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side. We were in Puerto Viejo for nearly two weeks and about halfway through our second week I started to get a fever and my body ached. The below is a day-by-day account of my symptoms and trips to the local clinic where I got my blood taken.
Day 1 (December 3): Thursday – Fever, body aching, loss of appetite
Day 2 (December 4): Friday – High Fever (102F), body aching (muscle, joint, and bone), bad headache especially behind my eyes, loss of appetite. Spencer spoke with a Puerto Viejo local who ran a healthy juice shop called Juice For Life. He made me a ginger shot with garlic and coconut water, turmeric shot with garlic and coconut water, papaya leaf
Day 3 (December 5): Saturday – No fever, body aching (muscle, joint, and bone), bad headache especially behind my eyes, loss of appetite. Went to the clinic in Hone Creek to make sure it was dengue. Blood test taken and doctor confirmed that I had dengue. Blood platelet levels were at 156,000 (normal levels range from 150,000-450,000). Doctors asked me to come back Sunday to get my blood taken again (if your levels go below 100,000 then you’ll need to be hospitalized and given a blood infusion to increase your levels, which is why it’s so important to get your levels regularly). Had the chills that afternoon and through the night.
Day 4 (December 6): Sunday – Woke up with no chills or fever, body aching (muscle, joint, and bone), bad headache especially behind my eyes, loss of appetite. Went to the clinic to get my blood taken. Platelet levels fell to 136. Doctor asked that I come back Tuesday to get levels checked again since Dengue Fever can lead to Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF) and severe internal bleeding can occur when platelet levels dip below 100.
Day 5 (December 7): Monday – No fever, no chills, body aching (muscle, joint, and bone), bad headache especially behind my eyes, appetite came back. I’m making sure to hydrate though as much as possible. Spencer keeps me hydrated with a steady supply of fresh pipa fria (coconut water).
Day 6 (December 8): Tuesday – Feeling much better however body still aches, but it’s less severe. Went to the clinic in Hone Creek to get my blood taken. Platelet levels fell to 116. Since my platelet levels are still falling the doctor asked that I come back again on Wednesday for another test.
Day 7 (December 9): Wednesday – Feeling much better, body does not ache as much but my energy levels are low. Went to the clinic to get my blood taken. Platelet levels rose to 123. Since this is still low the doctors asked me to come back again on Thursday for another test.
Day 8 (December 10): Thursday – I feel better than the day before but I’m still resting as a precaution. Went to the clinic to get my blood taken. Platelet levels fell to 118. Doctors ask me to come back again on Saturday for another test. Doctors tell me to eat a lot more so Spencer makes me a ton of food.
Day 9 (December 11): Friday – Woke up with very itchy hands and feet. No rash, but I couldn’t stop itching. Basically rested all day, ate as much as possible and stayed very hydrated.
Day 10 (December 12): Saturday – Woke up feeling my best yet. No fever, no chills, body not aching and energy levels much higher. Itch was gone. Almost feeling back to normal. Went to the clinic to get my blood taken. Platelet levels shot up to 187. Doctor tells me that I’m clear and don’t have to return for anymore blood tests. YAY!
Day 1 (December 11): Friday – Wake up with a slight rash around my torso, don’t think much of it as I don’t have any other symptoms; no headache, no fever, no body aches (muscle, joint, or bone). My main concern is taking care of Becci and making sure she’s ok.
Day 2 (December 12): Saturday – Wake up with very sensitive skin. My skin isn’t itchy but it’s very sensitive to the touch, especially my back and chest. Becci and I go to the clinic so she can get her blood taken again. While we are waiting I notice that my feet, legs, and hands have now broken into a full on rash. It’s not itchy, but the rash is covering my body. I decide to get my blood taken while we are waiting for Becci’s results. Becci receives the news that she is fine and about 30 minutes later the doctor tells me that I have Dengue. My platelet levels are at 110.
Day 3 (December 13): Sunday – Wake up with very sensitive skin again. Rash is less severe but still obvious. Went to the clinic to get my blood taken. Platelet levels rise to 117. Doctors ask that I come back in tomorrow for another blood test.
Day 4 (December 14): Monday – Wake up with sensitive skin again. Rash seems to be going away. Went to the clinic to get my blood taken. Platelet levels rise to 128. Doctors ask that I come back in tomorrow for another blood test.
Day 5 (December 15): Tuesday – Still have sensitive skin around back and chest. Rash is gone. Went to the clinic to get my blood taken. Platelet levels rise to 134. Doctors ask that I come back in on Thursday for another test. At this point I’m really hoping that over the next two days my platelet levels will rise to over 150 so that I don’t have to come back again.
Day 6 (December 16): Wednesday – Skin is still sensitive, but less so. Rash is gone. Spend all day hydrating and eating nutrient dense food in the hopes that this will help raise my platelet levels.
Day 7 (December 17): Thursday – Skin is not longer sensitive. Rash hasn’t come back. Went to the clinic to get my blood taken. Platelet levels rise to 153. YAY! The Doctor clears me and says that I don’t have to come back anymore as it’s clear that my platelet levels are continuing to rise.
OUR TOP 5 Tips if you get dengue
- Papaya leaf tea: We were told by locals in Puerto Viejo that this is a natural remedy for dengue fever. The woman who owned our hostel went to the nearest papaya tree, broke off a big leaf, chopped it up, and boiled it in water for about 30 minutes. When the water cooled down we strained the tea into a few bottles and drank this as much as we could – it’s VERY BITTER! – while we were fighting the virus. We would pour about a shot glass worth of papaya leaf tea into a glass and down it every few hours. From our experience this definitely helped reduce the symptoms we were feeling.
- Acetaminophen (aka Paracetamol): We each received about 12 tablets of acetaminophen from the Doctor when we found out we had contracted dengue. We each took 1 tablet for the first few nights to help us sleep so that we could get some rest. We are not fans of pain pills and we can’t remember the last time we took any (it’s probably been a few years), but this really helped us sleep during the first few days of having dengue. *DON’T USE ANY BLOOD THINNING PAIN KILLERS LIKE ASPIRIN AND IBUPROFEN BECAUSE IT CAN CAUSE SEVERE BLEEDING!
- Coconut Water: This was our best friend during dengue. While Becci had dengue, I’d go to the store every day to buy about 5 coconut waters (pipa fria), which was just the whole coconut. I’d break it open, pour out the water in a glass and give it to Becci throughout the day. The Doctor told us that one of the complications of dengue fever is dehydration, so it was imperative that we drink as much water and electrolytes as we could and we figured the best way to do this was naturally through fresh coconut water.
- REST: This was essential in helping us recover. Even when we felt better we made sure to rest. It was definitely hard because we were in such a beautiful place and we wanted to explore, but going for walks around town or swims in the ocean would just further dehydrate us and make the recovery process even longer.
- OFF MOSQUITO REPELLENT: We should have known better when we saw every grocery store and convenience store selling this mosquito repellent but then again we never thought we’d get dengue either. If we were to do it all over again, we would have bought OFF straight away and applied everyday, but we do have it now and make sure to take it with us everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not the best product in terms of clean ingredients, but it will keep off the mosquitos and reduce your chances of getting dengue.
Although we would have rather not gotten dengue fever, we are very grateful for the amazing clinic staff, both administration and the doctors and nurses, for being so patient with us and helping us navigate the Insurance Claim Process so that we could get reimbursed for our treatment. If you’d like to know more about that process we are happy to share that with you in another blog post, however, since this one was so long we decided not to include it.
If you have any other questions for regarding our experience with dengue, let us know in the comments below, we are happy to share any additional information that we may have left out.
Becci and Spencer