Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever Is Nasty & It Made Me Cry

Derek Indonesia, Personal Stuff 150 Comments

Dengue Fever

Hunched over, with my hands on my knees, I tried to breathe but found it difficult. My head was pounding, I was covered in sweat despite the air-conditioner blasting cold air throughout the room and the dizziness made it difficult for me to even remain standing. I remember mumbling some nonsense. I remember a tear or two or three dropping from my eye and down my cheek. I remember thinking, “I’m so damn tired” as I felt worse and worse with every passing second.

It had been my plan for the month of July to take a break from the blog. I had decided to take two weeks off from writing so that I could rest a little and spend some much needed time away from the laptop. Those two weeks passed and I actually managed to enjoy some rest, but as soon as I was ready to return to blogging, I found myself unable to do so.

As luck would have it, during my two week ‘holiday’, which I took with some friends in Bali, I contracted dengue fever. Yup, dengue fever. And I kid you not when I state that I have never been through anything in my fourteen years of travel that has knocked me down, destroyed me and completely obliterated my sanity, as much as this experience with dengue fever.

For three days straight I had an extremely high, uncontrollable fever, which all led to that very night early last week when I found myself hunched over in my hotel room at 3am, barely able to breath, dizzy and nauseous, feeling as if I wouldn’t even make it to see the morning.

On the fourth day, the fever began to subside, and I forced myself to leave my hotel and visit a hospital. Some blood tests confirmed the dengue and I then experienced a week of on again, off again fevers, a bad lung infection, painful coughing, constant congestion, frequent headaches, body aches and a level of exhaustion that had me in great need of a major rest after less than three hours of being awake.

The range of feelings that I went through during those initial stages of the dengue fever included a strong desire to get rid of the illness as quickly as possible and return to my normal routine all the way to a strong desire to throw my laptop into the ocean and hole up in a small beach bungalow for the rest of my life. I have never felt so up and down, with moods and levels of discomfort changing so rapidly and so often, and I have never spent so much time in bed either.

The fevers are now gone, but there are still occasional headaches and I am absolutely exhausted most of the time. My white blood cell count hasn’t returned to normal yet and I certainly don’t feel even close to being my 100% normal self. Just the amount of effort it took for me to write this post up until this point has led to a guarantee that there will be a long nap in my near future.

The good news is that I can breathe and that I’m no longer awake in the middle of the night, dizzy and feeling hopeless. And if I’m able to complete this post, that will be a good indication that I can slowly – very, very slowly – start returning to my work.

So, my apologies for not being able to write for almost one whole month. It was weird not to, but it just wasn’t possible. I’ve also been quite slow at replying to emails naturally, but I will get to them all in the end, that I promise. For now, I just plan to continue resting and to continue drinking plenty of fluids, scattering some work in between, and making sure that I rid myself completely of this dengue fever sooner rather than later.

With that, I shall now leave you so that I can go and take my nap. Before I do though, I do want to sincerely thank you all for sticking around even though I haven’t been able to write. It certainly does mean a great deal to me, assuming that there are some of you who have stuck around!

Hope you’ve had a more positive July than me so far and for those of you who are out there traveling, I definitely wish you dengue-free adventures ahead…

If you wish to share any of your own tales of being sick on the road, please feel free to do so below!

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Comments 150

  1. James P

    Gosh, that’s really awful to be so devastated by a disease while traveling. I’m quite shocked you got it in Bali. I go there a lot and hadn’t encountered it, though I’m obsessive with mosquito protection myself. I even travel with a bed net, especially for bungalow type accommodation. In Timor they call dengue “Break bone fever” because that’s how it feels. I hope I never get dengue.

  2. Cliff

    Hi Earl,
    Sorry to hear you had Dengue Fever. One of the worst tropical diseases.

    I have traveled thoughout the world and have had a few terrible illnesses. Had Boutanesse Fever (Rock Mt. Spotted Fever) from a tick bite that was infected with the rickettsia bacterial parasite. With that one, I thought I was going to die. I came down with it in the USA after an extensive travel in Africa. I got the tick bite on a safari in Zimbabwe. The doctors in the USA really don’t know much about tropical diseases and I was suffering without any help from my regular doctor. Finally I went to a CDC doctor and they diagnosed it right away. Not many cases in the USA and they took many photos of me with all the red spots where the rickettsia were killing my red blood cells. But after a few days on Doxycyline, it killed them off and I was on my way to recovery.

    Another time I went to the Amazon Jungle of Peru. In the city of Iquitos where Dengue Fever is a common problem with thousands affected. Dengue is actually spread by the same mosquito as malaria, but is more common in the city. They reproduce using any standing water source in the house. When I came down with the Dengue Fever, I though my eyes were going to come out of my head with so much headache and pain. All joints and muscles were inflamed. I could not eat and only lay in bed sleeping with fever. I remember thinking this is the end and I am going to die. Only by taking Paracetamol (Acetaminophen) could the head pain be somewhat tolerable. After about 11 days of this torture, the fevers started to subside, a little less each day.
    Then I started to feel much better and to start eating some soup. After a couple of days I was still having some fever, but had to go to Movistar to get credit for my cell phone.
    When I was in the Movistar office, I started to get very light headed, with some vertigo. A bit nauseous, and then my vision blurred and things went white. I passed out and fell to the floor. My friend grabbed my head to prevent my head from hitting the floor. After a couple of minutes, I woke up. They were telling me to just lay still. I laid there for a few more minutes and was able to get up with assistance. We took a 3 wheeled moto taxi to a local clinic. They immediately put me on an IV and then ran some blood tests. The doctor came back after a while and told me the good news is that the Dengue is over. But the bad news is that I have Malaria tres-cruces! As it turns out, I may have had the malaria in my liver for quite some time as it frequently stays dormant in your liver. Then when my system was weakened with the Dengue Fever, the malaria came out and flourised! So after a few days of malaria fever and taking malaria medications and protocol, I was over the malaria.

    One good thing from that month of dengue and malaria is that I lost 25 kilos. Even though I needed to lose the weight, I would not recommend the Dengue diet to anyone!

    All in the life of a traveling writer and television producer….

    Now I have been living with the indigenous natives in the Amazon Jungle for the last 5 years without any further problems other than Dengue once more ( a different strain). There are only 4 strains, so half way to being immune.

    Best wishes in your travels,
    Cliff Tulpa

  3. Charlot

    i got dengue fever in Koh Phangan as well (it looks like a lot of people get it there). I’ve been in the hospital for 6 days, then i thought “Oh nice i made it throught so fast!”
    Not really, it happened 1 month ago and i’m still feeling sick. My hands peels off, still weak and tired. I was feeling energetic 2 days ago so i made some movement (actually a lot of) and the day after totally broken in bed again, tired muscles paint, sadness :-((( I’m just wondering how long it will take to feel better again! My blood check last week wasn’t perfect yet, and i just wanna leave again for some other places as soon as possible, but now i just have to surrender myself to this damn dengue fever. Wish you all my best for your journeys and wish all of you NO dengue fever anymore!!!

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  5. Monica

    I’ve been traveling for the last four years, mainly solo and almost always hitchhiking. I found your blog about two years ago when I was finally planning to leave the states and hitchhike around Mexico and wrote to you to ask what you thought about me hitchhiking solo as a female in Mexico. I appreciate that you did not tell me not to do it. Not that it really mattered, every one I know told me not to and I did. I loved it. I actually ended up hitchhiking all the way to Colombia (for the Darien, I ended up getting lucky and actually getting paid to “work” on a ‘commercial charter yacht’, my boss was a crazy Slovenian dude). Thanks for your support 🙂

    Anyway, I’ve been living in Indonesia for 10 months now doing a one year scholarship program to study Indonesian culture. I specialize in music, but I’m lucky that my teacher doesn’t care about attendance and obviously I choose to learn about the culture by hitting the streets. I lived in Yogyakarta or about 6 months, about three weeks in Sumatra, two months in Bali, and 3 weeks in Komodo (got lucky with another one of those boat ‘jobs’, free trips 😉 I noticed you’re doing a trip there soon, if you want the contract for my captain he’s really awesome!) And about two weeks in Sumbawa and Lombok.

    In Yogyakarta I got dengue as well. It’s actually a hilarious story to me so I figured I share it:
    A few days after coming back from Bali the first time I went to dinner with a friend. Around 8:30 I started feeling tired (that is so unusual for me, for instance is 3am and I’m awake reading your blog) I’m a night owl. I knew it was weird. I could only manage to stay awake until about 9:15. I woke up at 11 because I set my alarm so I could pick up my roommate from the airport at 12:30 (very far from our house). My head was throbbing and I stood up and I thought “my legs don’t really work…? And my legs immediately collapsed under me. So I dragged myself on the ground to my motorbike, got on the bike and barely able to open my eyes drove to my friend’s place first. He wasn’t home yet so I laid in the dirt and fell asleep for like 5 minutes when he got home… ” I’m really tired Mas, maybe I’m sick? We should drive slow ” He drove fast and I really could have hurt myself and others but I was in denial that I was just tired. We got to the airport early and I immediately get off the bike and fall asleep in the dirt again until my roommate find me there and wakes me up.. I tell him he had to drive. I slept on the motor, got home and slept for like 12 hours until the pain was so bad I was laying on the floor of my Indonesian mandi constantly throwing cold water on myself. Then, like 12 more hours sleep.. Then cold shower ritual again, and sleep more. I wake up and my roommate is there, he asks if I feel better, “I’m just REALLY tired…..? And my head hurts.” “Mas, I think you got Dengue… You should probably go to the hospital. You’ve been sleeping for four days and you’re still ‘tired’? And you haven’t eaten anything! You can’t even walk dude! Go to the hospital!” My response: ” Mosquitos don’t bite me Mas, its science ” the next day I was like 50% better than day 6 I just had a little fever and still couldn’t walk… Actually I don’t think I could walk again properly until day 8.. But I did drive motorbike with dengue.
    About 20 of our 36 foreign students had dengue.. My teacher said that every five years there’s an epidemic. We were the fifth year….

    Hope you’re well 🙂

  6. Pretty Balinese

    I never had dengue, but I know it’s epidemic here on my city. I had chikungunya when I was 14 years old, and I spended two days of high fever, a week with an intense thirst and 8 months with an excruciating joint pain and I experienced a terrible headache. This was so awful. I had all the symptoms of disease, except the cutaneous rash and I don’t was vomiting, but I lost 7kg. I was crying of pain, but never in the front of anyone. I picked so much Tylenol to alleviating my suffering. This was so horrible! Dengue isn’t matter, if compared to chikungunya.

  7. Ryan

    Dang Earl, you definitely weren’t exaggerating. I’m 7 days into my Dengue here in Koh Phangan…brutal! Thanks for sharing the tale!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Ryan – Hang in there…you’ll pull out of it soon. And then, rest. Make sure you stay in one place for a few weeks without moving around much at all. It will play a big role in how long your body will take to recover.

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  9. Blanka

    Hiya Earl,
    I am reading the post now in September, so I am really glad that you are well again. I think this whole year is a bit wierd (/-ly clensing) in that way. I had a simmilar experience back in January – it could be the way of getting rid of stuff our body/mind doesn’t need any more allong with a test about our decisions – if they’re still so sound, valid…or as a crossroad for if we need to change the path quite a lot.
    I’ve also read the next post and I fully agree – it is about our decisions, we can’t expect the list of what exactly we shoul do – even if it worked for someone, our situation and life are different – so it can’t work 100%, maybe not even a half…
    Have a good time anywhere,

  10. Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Earl,

    I really hope you’re well dude! I was wiped out in a similar fashion by giardia, last November, in Southern India. It last about 2 weeks, and I lost 20 pounds during the time frame.

    Then, 2 to 3 more weeks to recover. Most I’ve ever suffered in my life.

    Sending my healing energies your way. It’s been a while, so I’m hoping your back to normal.


  11. Christina

    In 2010 I arrived in La Ceiba, Honduras, all ready to begin my internship for an environmental organization. Sadly, three days into my internship I woke up sick and shaking like a leaf. My pillow was soaking wet so I’d clearly had had a fever. I phoned my boss and asked for a day off since I wasn’t feeling well. Immediately, he asked what was wrong with me and asked me to be specific with the details. Knowing he wasn’t a doctor, I answered his question with much confusion-why ask such a personal question when everyone has the flu every now and then? Wasn’t that crossing some sort of employer/employee line?

    It turned out whenever you are sick in Honduras, the first thing they check for is the symptoms for Tropical Fever….better known Dengue Fever to the common man. I was admitted to the hospital the same day and was sick for two looong weeks before the extremely high fever finally broke and I had more than an hour of clear consciousness. I lost 10 kilos and all I remember from those two weeks are the pain and being oh so tired and sore in my entire body 24/7. Def. one of the worst experiences in my life, so you have my deepest sympathy. Be careful with your body right now, you’re more fragile now after the trauma of the Dengue. “Rest, eat at least two small but solid meals a day, drink lots of water and take a walk once a day so you get your body going again” was the advice I was given.

  12. Jeremy

    DAMN! Can’t even imagine being that sick.

    My worst experience was when I decided to eat Chinese food at the Mexico City airport on my way back to Miami. I managed to make it back to my apt, but the second I entered the door, I felt my bowls drop and I LITERALLY couldn’t take more than 5 steps away from my toilet for 3 days straight. I had to call my neighbor to go buy me medicine and liquids. Montezuma’s Revenge is pretty ruthless but don’t think it’s on the same line as Dengue!

  13. Jen

    I hope that you are feeling much better! For medical purposes it would be helpful for you to find out the Dengue Fever Serotype with which you were infected. If in the future you were to be infected by a different serotype of dengue virus, you would be more likely to develop very severe disease. At the very least you would want to tell the medical personal that you had been infected by Dengue Virus in the past. Take care of yourself!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Thanks Jen. I’m definitely aware of all that and will always tell medical staff that I’ve had dengue before just in case!

  14. Carolyn James

    I remember that you felt energized looking out from a high place, or being near water … maybe there is a place like that, near where you are?

  15. George Bezushko

    I know how scary it can be, to be sick and on the road, the insecurity of not knowing who will take care of you if you are too weak yourself and too confused to make decisions. I trust that you are well on your way to recovery. If that’s true, then maybe now is a better time than before to let you know your readers are with you always in spirit. Hope you are feeling better.

  16. Hanne Hellvik

    Oooouch! Hope you are all healthy by now! The worst is to be sick on travel! I was once food poisoned in Nigeria. Without water and electricity in the house, it was not very pleasant! Having to run out to fetch water outside every time I to go to the toilet, which was every 2 minutes. Yeah, that is one of my stories. Thanks for sharing yours! I am really enjoining reading your blog, Earl!

  17. Scott

    Ouch! Sounds nasty! I’ve been checking in now and then and wondered if everything was ok, as I noticed there hadn’t been any new posts recently. Remember that work isn’t everything, and without your health you won’t be able to continue on your epic adventures. Take some (or indeed a lot) of time to get your head straight, and make sure you are 100% better before continuing.

    Wishing you all the best, and hope you get well soon!

  18. Brianna

    I thought I was the luckiest traveler in the world–I found a non-touristy island off of Hoi An, Vietnam during a national holiday. I spent the night in the glowing light of the fire drinking beer, enjoying local food, and laughing with a local family that had taken me in for the night. The next morning, around 4am, I ran into the bathroom feeling that the world was going to end. Without getting into too much detail I spent the entire day naked in the bathroom, showering after every attack, unable to even drink water.

    The island was small, so by the following morning I was the infamously sick foreigner that the entire town had heard about. People did try to help, but without knowing English a lot of them just rubbed their bellies and looked at my sadly. I’d gotten food poisoning before that was the worst I had ever felt. I thought I would never eat again and–considering I was so far away from modern conveniences–I’m so glad it wasn’t more serious.

  19. Vernon

    Man, that sounds terrible. I’ve been lucky not to have gotten sick in my 17 years or so of working in travel. But it does remind me of malaria that I had as a kid.

    I just found your blog recently, so I’m looking forward to you being back to good health so that I can read more!

  20. Dave K

    Sorry to hear about your Dengue episode. I didn’t even notice that you haven’t posted in a while because I have been doing a little traveling myself. My wife and I sent the kids to spend some time with aunts, uncles and grandparents, while we spend three weeks in Eastern Europe (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Serbia.) It was incredible and best of all, my wife loved it. That means maybe more travel in the future. I’m not in the position to travel full-time, but a good 3-5 week trip once a year is feasible. Meanwhile, I get my travel fix by following Wandering Earl and researching my next trip. Hope you feel better and get back in the game soon.

  21. sandi

    I first had Dengue after Hurricane Marilyn in The US Virgin Islands. I slept most of the 2 weeks that my boyfriend suffered with the fever and the break-bone symptoms. Then another couple of weeks to get back to myself. The 2nd case was in Venezuela and that was SOOOO MUCH WORSE than the 1st! I knew I had dengue before the blood test knew it! and I suffered for 6 weeks. The last symptom was the spots before my eyes! I seemed to be looking thru a windshield covered with flies, and that continued after I was feeling fine! I thought it would never clear up! It was the last symptom to appear and the last to leave! You have my SYMPATHY!! Also when I was in Bali, I got Bali-belly for 24 hours, I think maybe some bad milk/yogurt??? I wish you continued good luck for your travels! This world is to small not to experience as much as you can, while you can!!

  22. Brenda

    My son is in the Philippines and contracted that fever last year. It tore my heart out to see the videos that his wife sent to us me of him in the hospital. I still think it is taking a toll on his health because he has lost so much weight. Good safe

  23. Alex

    I’ve seen a few friends get Dengue Fever and it seems horrifying. I’ve become pretty paranoid with mosquitos in Southeast Asia and carry repellent whenever I can.

  24. mubashir

    i am from pakistan. which i hope you have visited in your 88 countries tour so far. i have learned about you and your site while surfing on yahoo site. i think you are enjoying life at the most as you have seen the beautiful world that the God has created for us. You must have seen God in spirit while seeing his creation. That must have changed you. recently you are recovering from dangue. i suggest take apple juice with planty of lemon squeeze on it on regularly basis which will improve your strength level. that i have listen it from somewhere. i am not much of a talkative person. i speak very little and have almost have no social circle. i am married with 3 children. my wife like to travel she will be very please to hear about you when i will told her. But seeing you, make me feel like to say this. this life is very little so go for lifeafter death which is very long almost infinity. so EMBRACE ISLAM.

  25. kyle charron

    Earl you made the yahoo news page a couple of days ago I saw the article today! I go to yahoo/the guardian at least once a week to catch up on the world news – I couldn’t believe it when I saw your picture on one of the articles! You inspired me to take my gap year and see other parts of the world last year and it’s changed my life 100% for the better, so this was pretty cool seeing a story about you on a major webpage! Congrats man, that’s awesome! Here is the article for anybody who wants to read it there’s also a video!–24-000-while-traveling-the-world-172416894.html

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Kyle – Thanks for that and I’m just happy that you’ve taken that gap year and are having such a life-changing experience! That’s the best news I could possibly hear!

  26. Kat41150

    Wow…that sounds horrible. I hope you feel better now.

    A travel story: Back in the 1990s I spent four months traveling alone in Syria as part of a longer solo backpacking trip. At one point, I was in Palmyra in the eastern desert and was given the opportunity to go inside a large locked oasis by a local young man. While wandering through the garden, I was offered water from a fountain. Instead of politely saying no, because of the strong tradition of Arab hospitality I accepted a small drink of water. Big mistake. That night I became violently ill, with fever, headache, chills, vomiting and painful, gut-wrenching ‘abdominal distress’. For one of the only times on my entire trip, I had gotten a room with a private bathroom, which I used…often. After three days of not seeing me, one of the hotel workers knocked on my door to see what was up and I gave him money and asked him to buy me some bottled water, bananas and oranges … fruit that could be peeled. I spent a few more days getting back on my feet and took a bus to Damascus.
    Once in Damascus, I got a hotel room and then wandered around the shops. I asked a man in a jewelry store if he knew of a good place to get some simple roast chicken and plain rice. He didn’t speak a lot of English so he called his brother who worked at another shop a few doors down. His brother came and I repeated my question, adding that I’d been ill and just wanted some simple food. He asked me where I was staying and I told him. He said to go back to the hotel and that he would bring some food by for me. I figured what the hell, I’d thrown myself on the fates before. I went back to the hotel and about an hour later the two men showed up. They had pots of food: plain rice, roast chicken, pita bread and some broth. They had called their mother, who had cooked food for me, a complete stranger. They said not to worry about the pots, to just leave them in the hotel for someone else to use, as the hotel had a small kitchen area. I thanked them over and over again, moved to tears by their extraordinary kindness. They waved off my thanks and left. I never saw them again.
    Early the next morning I left to go to Aleppo but before leaving, I dropped their clean pots at the door to the first brother’s not-yet-opened shop.

    The experience was the most amazing display of kindness I’ve ever known and is one of the reasons I cry thinking about what’s happened to Syria.

  27. Stephanie Howell

    In case you come down with this fever, or any, there is something that will help you feel better, that will raise your white blood cell count, the reishi or lingzhi mushroom, is used in traditional chinese medicine.
    Safe Travels

  28. Nan

    Just wondering how much the hospital bill came too? Also which insurance company do you use and did they cover 100%? I use to have travel insurance but I don’t even bother now as I travel in poorer countries. I figured I’ll just pay out of pocket and take my chances (I know I could have some crazy injury but whatever).

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Nan – The hospital bill came to around $200 USD including all blood work and tests. And I use a private health insurance from back in the US which covers 50% of such costs overseas.

  29. Paul Mount

    Hello Earl! I thought I was sick during my summer trip to Maui, but it was a mere flesh wound compared to what you endured. Pardon my ignorance, because I have never heard of Dengue Fever, what can travelers do to lower their chances of getting such an illness?

    I really enjoy reading about your travels, without your sickness of course, and often think about teaching abroad during my summer vacation. Any tips?

    Get well, and please continue to share.



    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Paul – The best way to avoid dengue is to avoid mosquitos. Wear repellent in areas where there is a high chance of dengue and that will reduce the risk. As for teaching abroad, there are plenty of opportunities, although usually they would want a commitment greater than a summer…you can find opportunities over at to give you an idea of what’s out there.

  30. Adlina

    Hi Earl,

    I have never ever emailed someone I don’t know. But I thought your life is quite interesting. I work for myself as an Entrerpenuer with a new Company that stated just 4 years ago here in the State of Texas. The opportunity has been spreading abroad helping people to earn money they never thought they could. This may be an opportunity you will want to look into. Since the Nerium International is now open in US, Canada and soon to Mexico and around the world. You are traveling around the world and it only makes sense to leave your foot prints every where you go letting other people take advantage of the same opportunity. You can make money so fast thru your downline of people.

    Ok so what is it? You are young and may say “I don’t need it”. But people over 40 do. I am 65 and just started using the antiaging product that was accidently discovered at M.D. Anderson Research Center in Texas. It takes 10 years off your face, neck, ect. That’s what people want to look better and feel better. I hope you take a look at our company and if you think this is an added line you can work by telling people about the wonderful product (which are 3 of them now) please let me know to sponser you or anyone you might think would like to make the money and also travel to countries the Company is opening to share the product. Why am I not traveling? Well, I take care of my aging parents and can’t do it now. Maybe later but I am contacting people I know from US, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Don’t know anyone in Canada.:(
    So take it and run with it or share it with someone else. My website is

    Take care, I once got Dengue in P.R. I know how you felt. Adlina

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