Mountain Biking and Dengue

By Jen Benepe, June 7, 2012

If you travel around the world to find the best mountain biking spots, you need to know about the dangers of mosquito-bourne diseases.

One of those is Dengue which in its worst manifestation can be fatal, and in its most benign, make you bedridden for days.

Both of these outcomes would throw a monkey wrench in your coveted mountain biking trip, so it’s best to be aware not only of the locations of the world where you can get Dengue, but also how to prevent it.

This author traveled to Mexico in 2006 for some road and mountain biking around Oaxaca, an area in the south known for its marvelous mountains and inter-mountain biking trails.

While on a day mountain bike trip, I spontaneously decided to go on an overnight with friends who would be staying in the mountains, and then ride down the next morning. I had left most of my supplies in the hotel room–including my bug spray, and decided not to buy duplicates, with the exception of toothpaste.

That was a mistake.

I was bitten that night or the next morning, and within days I was so ill, I could not move from my hotel bed.

I was vomiting every 20 minutes, and had severe diarrhea. This went on for more than 24 hours. My pain was unbearable: every limb, every joint felt like a knife was being inserted, and the space behind my eyes felt like they were being inserted with power drills.

What’s worse, I was traveling alone.

Fortunately, I had friends in the area, people I had met in 2004 while I had lived briefly in the area.

One of them was Dr. Arturo Bustamante. He is an avid cyclist, bicycle advocate, and a true mensch. He came to my hotel room by bicycle on a Sunday afternoon, sent the hotel staff out to get me medicine, and in a few days I was well enough to leave the country.

But the lesson was learned: mosquito repellent is a necessary travel item, no matter where you travel in South America, and even in some locations in the U.S.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there were more than 25,000 Dengue cases in Mexico in 2010, a number that is sure to be underreported due to the lack of access to health care for the majority of the population. For example, my case alone was not reported to the authorities, because I never went to the hospital.

Yet the number of Dengue cases in Mexico alone is more than 10 times the incident rate in 2001, when 1,781 cases were reported.

In 2007, when I was infected, there were 27,000 cases of Dengue, with 4,447 of those the hemorrhagic type–the type I had–which can cause death, according to the Mexican Public Health Department, and a report by MSNBC.

Though Mexico’s case is shocking, consider the “southern cone,” of the Americas, a zone defined by the CDC as including Paraguay and Brazil.

Cyclist be forwarned, Brazil accounts for 75 percent of all the Dengue cases in the Americas, with over 710,000 cases, more than 8,000 of those severe, according to the CDC.  More than 300 people died from Dengue in Brazil in 2010.

And, the disease is not confined to South America.

Incidences of Dengue have been reported in Florida, Texas (especially in border areas to Mexico,) and Hawaii.

Indications that you have Dengue include vomiting, diarrhea and fever, severe pain in your head, especially behind your eyes, and severe pain in your limbs, especially in your joints.  In such a case, it is important to drink as much as possible to prevent severe dehydration, and seek medical care.

To prevent Dengue, make sure you always carry and use a DEET-form of mosquito spray when traveling in hot regions, especially in South America, and states close to the border with the United States.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *