A mosquito-borne virus that prompted Brazil to declare a state of emergency may cause an unusual and embarrassing new symptom, scientists say.
Dengue fever, which is usually associated with fevers, rashes and internal bleeding, has now been linked to spontaneous erections that last for hours.
Doctors in Burkina Faso, West Africa, put forward the theory after treating a 17-year-old boy who was in the emergency department with a severe dengue infection.
The young man suffered from acute ischemia (where blood flow to a part of the body is interrupted) and kidney problems due to his infection.
But doctors also noted that he suffered from a “mild…persistent” erection that lasted 18 hours and had occurred “without any sexual stimulation.”
Rio de Janeiro declared a state of emergency amid rising dengue cases as millions of tourists prepared to arrive in Brazil for the city’s famous carnival. Pictured: A health worker sprays against mosquitoes in Brazil, February 2.
A patient is taken to a hospital after receiving medical attention at a makeshift military aid post set up to treat suspected cases of dengue in Brazil, February 6.
The map above shows US states that have reported locally acquired dengue infections between 2010 and 2023.
They believe this may have been caused by the virus infecting the blood vessels of the penis and causing plasma to leak fluid into the shaft, making the penis appear larger and firmer than in its flaccid state.
writing in the diary Urology Case ReportsDoctors said: “Dengue, by causing vascular leaks, could be a rare trigger for arterial priapism.” [spontaneous erections].’
US scientists told DailyMail.com it was certainly “possible” that dengue could cause spontaneous erections, noting that Covid, mumps and even rabies have previously been linked to the symptom.
But they said it’s probably an extremely rare complication.
It comes as Florida has reported two locally detected cases of dengue fever so far this year. It has also reported five cases in residents who had recently traveled out of state. Last year, doctors issued an alert after an increase in infection.
There is also a major outbreak in Brazil with 340,000 cases reported, four times more than at the same time last year.
The country is building emergency clinics to deal with the surge in patients and says 40 dengue deaths have been confirmed so far.
In the Burkina Faso case, doctors treated the boy’s erection with an ice pack, which caused the blood vessels to constrict and reduce the amount of fluid in the penis.
The patient also had no medical history or underlying conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, which had previously been linked to spontaneous erections.
He was treated for the infection with antiviral medications and after three and six months of follow-up, he was healthy and had returned to normal.
Doctors said he had no complaints and was able to achieve a normal erection without pain or problems.
Dengue outbreaks were previously rare in the United States, but rising temperatures are making the viral infection more common as mosquitoes move further north.
About 1,000 Americans are now infected with dengue each year, a tenfold increase since 2019, when just under 100 infections a year were recorded.
The number of dengue cases per year is currently at its highest level since 2013, after a large outbreak in South Texas.
Florida is the only state to report dengue cases so far this year in the US, although infections are becoming more common
Currently, about 1,000 people are infected with dengue each year in the United States, ten times more than before the pandemic. However, the number of cases is still lower than in 2013, when an outbreak in Texas led to the detection of almost 10,000 cases.
Dengue is transmitted by mosquitoes and the virus infects blood vessels.
Erections are normally caused by the dilation of the blood vessels in the penis, which causes fluids to flow into the erectile tissue called the corpus cavernosum.
Dr Richard Murphy, who advised Doctors Without Borders in Africa for seven years, said it was possible that dengue could cause spontaneous erections or priapism.
“Viruses have been linked to priapism in the past, including Covid, mumps and even rabies,” he told this website.
“Therefore, it is possible that other viruses are associated with it.”
He suggested that if this symptom was demonstrated, it was probably extremely rare because many infections with dengue had previously been recorded.
Dengue fever is transmitted through the bites of mosquitoes, which inject the virus into humans when they suck someone’s blood.
Most patients have no symptoms, but just under half will develop warning signs of the disease, such as a sudden headache, fever and pain behind the eyes.
It can also cause pain in joints, such as the knees and elbows, that is so intense that it feels like they are shattered, earning it the nickname “bone-breaking fever.”
In severe cases, the disease causes life-threatening complications, such as dengue shock syndrome, characterized by severe bleeding, and encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain.
Doctors treat patients using a combination of pain relievers, fluids, and machines to control the disease.
But this is labor-intensive, often leading to hospitals having little bandwidth to care for other patients.
There is also a vaccine available for the disease, called Qdenga, which is recommended for children aged six to 16 years in areas where the disease is endemic.