Health and Wellness

Is it Dengue or COVID-19? Here’s how you can tell

By: - June 11, 2021

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020, Evelyn suddenly developed fever, cough, a lack of appetite, and intermittent vomiting while quarantined at home. At first, she feared the worst  “Nabalaka jud ko kay basig Covid ning sakit. Mao sad to ang usa sa mga rason kon ngano dugay ko nagpacheck up.”  (I was worried that this sickness I had was COVID. That was one of the reasons why I did not have a check-up for a long time).

After visiting several hospitals, she was referred by her doctor to take some preliminary blood tests in Hi Precision Cebu. It was only then where she tested positive for dengue despite having all the symptoms of a severe COVID-19 infection. 

Evelyn was lucky enough to get the right diagnosis for an effective and life-saving treatment, but her predicament is not unique. While fighting COVID-19 has become everyone’s top priority for the last year and a half, dengue remains a persistent threat to people, especially during the rainy season.

COVID-19 and dengue are both dangerous viruses with similar early symptoms of fever, cough, and nausea. There have even been rare but documented instances of dengue causing false positive results in COVID tests. So how can one tell the difference between dengue and COVID-19 so as to get the right treatment? 

COVID-19 vs Dengue: at a Glance

Dengue and COVID-19 come from two completely different viruses and yet have striking similarities. On top of sharing similar symptoms like high fever, cough, and nausea, both viruses also trigger a drop in platelets and white blood cells (although this is commonly thought to be more dramatic with dengue).  They also disproportionately affect both the elderly and infants as well as those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. As mentioned earlier, there are documented cases of dengue patients triggering false positives in RT-PCR tests and even vice versa. 

Close Monitoring of individual symptoms

Given similar initial symptoms and even test results, medical experts use close monitoring of the symptoms more unique to each disease. Symptoms unique to COVID-19, for instance, are more respiratory in nature, such as difficulty breathing. Coughing is also considered to be more prominent with COVID-19 infection, though this is not definitive. Loss of sense of taste or smell is another well-known symptom of COVID that does not occur among those with dengue. 

Symptoms unique to or feature more prominently in a severe dengue infection include severe muscle pains or “breakbone fever,” pain or aching in the abdomen or the back of the eyes, or sudden bleeding. 

Cross and Repeat Testing  

Another way doctors can prevent misdiagnosis of a patient is through cross-testing with several different kinds of tests. In India, another country battling with both COVID-19 and dengue outbreaks, the Indian Council of Medical Research officially endorses repeat testing over time to confirm the findings of a specific test result. 

Experts also suggest taking more than one test to allow doctors to cross-reference for consistency. For instance, to determine COVID infection, there is the RT-PCR test to determine if you can currently have the virus or not. There are also COVID antibody tests that measure your level of antibodies which are special cells formed in response to your body recovering from a specific disease. COVID antibody tests are more used to measure if someone has had previous exposure to COVID and was either asymptomatic or has recovered from the illness. 

Similarly, dengue has two types of tests. There is the dengue NS1 test, which is used to measure current infection, and dengue antibody tests, which are also designed to see if your body has encountered the virus before. According to infectious diseases specialist Dr. Karl Henson from Medical City, the NS1 test is very specific to dengue. However, he still recommends that a patient take a dengue antibody test from the 4th-7th day to avoid the occurrence of a false negative result. 

Early Detection Saves Lives

Be it a COVID-19 or dengue infection, early detection and treatment are really what save lives. On top of the standard prevention measures for COVID or dengue (ie social distancing, disposal of stagnant water),  it is still best to undergo regular testing and consultation with your doctor even with minor symptoms. 

Hi-Precision Diagnostics Cebu offers both Dengue NS1 and Antibody Tests as well as six different kinds of COVID antigen and antibody tests. We recommend you consult your doctor to know which test is best for you. To know more, visit Hi-Precision Diagnostics Cebu on Facebook or contact through landline- 888 2222 or Viber/ Cellphone- 0917 770 3638.

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