Saturday 24 February 2018

My tropical nightmare

Irishwoman's Caribbean dream was ruined by mosquito-transmitted dengue fever, writes Maura McBride

Maura McBride

The doctor said it was a case of strep throat. He assured Portmarnock native Aislinn Amory that with rest, fluids and antibiotics, she would be fine in no time. Instead, Aislinn (27), started to feel progressively worse and was eventually diagnosed with dengue fever, a virus spread by mosquitoes in tropical regions throughout the world.

"I didn't know what was wrong", says Aislinn. "I felt extremely weak and tired.

"The week before I was training for a half marathon and all of a sudden I barely had the energy to get out of bed in the morning. My whole body was aching from head to toe, it felt like I had been hit by a bus".

Frightened with this sudden change in her energy levels and state of health, Aislinn, an Autism Therapist, sought immediate medical care in her adopted home of Tortola, a 12-mile-long tropical island in the Caribbean.

"I went to the doctor as soon as I first started to feel sick and was surprised when he told me I was suffering from a bout of strep throat.

"My throat was sore but I had a few other symptoms like fatigue and a headache that were affecting me as well. I was prescribed a course of antibiotics and instead of feeling better after a few days of treatment I started to feel worse."

"At this point I decided to check in with my GP in Dublin. He has been my family doctor for years and I wanted to see if he had any advice as to why I was still feeling sick.

"He suggested that I go back to the doctor on the island and request a series of blood tests to see if there was more going on with my body than met the eye.

"I am so grateful that I followed his advice and went for blood tests because it was only after the results came in that I was diagnosed with dengue fever".

Dengue fever is a virus spread by mosquitoes in tropical regions of the world such as the Caribbean.

It causes flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, a headache behind the eyes, a rash, severe muscle and joint pain, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and extreme fatigue.

It is also referred to as 'breaking bone disease' because the muscle and joint pain is so severe.

"I really didn't feel well. Every part of my body was sore, even my bones, and I never experienced such debilitating fatigue before", says Aislinn.

"I am normally very healthy and energetic so it was a real shock to the system to feel this way. I had no idea what was wrong with me and I was so relieved to receive a diagnosis.

"I didn't want to have a tropical disease, but at least I knew why I was feeling the way I was".

Two months after being diagnosed with dengue fever, Aislinn is still suffering from symptoms of the tropical disease and her energy levels have not returned to normal.

"My head still pounds on occasion, and I suffer from serious bouts of fatigue. Sometimes I need to stop whatever it is I'm doing and go to bed.

"Something as simple as making dinner can be overwhelming. Before this I had a very full and active life.

"I was training every day with a friend and planned on completing my first 20k run in a few weeks. Comparing my life before dengue fever to what it is like now is like comparing day to night.

"My social life and exercise tolerance are borderline geriatric when my symptoms are acting up".

Aislinn's mum, Mary Amory, a retired nurse living in Portmarnock was very worried about her daughter's health and found it hard being so far away from her usually healthy daughter while she was so sick and could have done with the care of her family.

"Aislinn normally has a ton of energy", says Mary. "Every week we chat on Skype and she fills me in on the comings and goings of her wonderful life in the Caribbean.

"When this normally very busy and bubbly girl all of a sudden was too tired to Skype and call home I knew something was not right."

"I am so grateful that my daughter had the support of our family GP and that he gave her the advice to get more blood tests.

"It was very hard for her not feeling well for so long and not knowing what was going on with her body and what was causing her such distress.

And she adds: "I am so relieved and happy that she has started to feel better. It's very hard for a parent to be so far away from their child, no matter how old they are, when they are unwell and need you".

Like her mum, Aislinn missed the love and support of her nearest and dearest while battling dengue fever.

"I really missed my family the last few months and became very homesick. No one is there for you quite like your Mum and Dad.

"My mum's also a nurse and she has always been my go-to person for anything health related. So I could have really done with being geographically closer to her the last few months.

"Since being sick I have really counted my blessings and I am quite lucky to have parents that are so caring and willing to be there for me even though I am an adult.

"It really helped me feel good during a time when I felt so physically ill and far from home".

Unfortunately, there is no cure for dengue fever or vaccine available that will prevent Aislinn from contracting the tropical disease again.

"All she can do is wear a strong mosquito repellent such as Deet and try to avoid getting bitten again.

"I do wear repellent but if I'm being honest I haven't been that religious about it", says Aislinn.

"My doctor has advised me to wear clothes that cover up my arms and legs to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes. I have found this pretty hard to do considering I'm living in a tropical climate.

"The average temperature is around 30C so it is far too hot out to wrap up and cover up. It's even hot out at night and most nights it is too hot to even sleep with a sheet on the bed."

"Since moving to the Caribbean, I have learned that there are some people mosquitoes just love and I am one of them. I work indoors all day and there are so many people working in the outdoors who are more exposed to mosquitoes and never get bitten.

"My boyfriend Rory is a sailing instructor and spends the majority of the day outside and he rarely gets bitten.

"I just don't know what makes them prefer some people over others", says Aislinn.

Aislinn was fortunate that she was not infected with a more serious type of dengue fever, known as dengue haemorrhagic fever.

This is a rare form of dengue and those infected suffer from serious damage to blood vessels, bleeding from the nose and gums, enlargement of the liver, and circulatory system failure.

These symptoms may worsen and lead to internal bleeding, shock, and ultimately death.

"I know someone who had dengue haemorrhagic fever last year and he had to leave the island and move back home to the UK because he was so sick", says Aislinn. "He was in hospital for several weeks and almost suffered from organ failure.

"He even had to spend some time in the intensive care unit.

"He was told if he contracted dengue fever again it could kill him and it wasn't wise to live in a part of the world where dengue outbreaks can occur. That is some very scary medical advice to receive and he had to make a lot of life changes as a result.

"He had to quit his job, sell his car and plan a relocation back to the UK all while recovering from a very serious illness.

"That is a lot of change for a person in good health, I don't know how he managed to get so much done while trying to bounce back from a life-threatening case of dengue fever.

'I have been warned by my doctor that if I do manage to get dengue fever again the odds are greater that I will develop dengue hemorrhagic fever so it's important that I do what I can to avoid mosquito bites so I can stay healthy", Aislinn continues.

"Living in the Caribbean is a once in a lifetime experience and I hope that the rest of my time here will be less about illness and more about the sun, sea and sand.

"It was very hard to make the move to paradise and to then contract a tropical disease. I am feeling better now and am looking forward to moving on from my tropical nightmare and enjoying life in Totola".

Irish Independent

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