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Death of Surfing Legend Andy Irons and Dengue?

Posted Nov 03 2010 12:00am

Former World Champion surfer Andy Irons was found dead in his hotel room in Texas, November 2, 2010 at the age of 32.  The cause of death is unknown, as of today November 3rd, 2010.  Autopsy reports are still pending and there is discussion of overdose and dengue fever.  Irons has been battling Dengue Fever according to his family and believes that he contracted this disease in Portugal at a recent surfing competition.  There has been a surge in the mosquitoes that transmit dengue, in Portugal but no disease outbreaks.  Dengue is also common in Puerto Rico, where Irons was competing just prior to death. 

Andy was scheduled to appear at a surfing competition in Puerto Rico but did not show up for several of his heats due to illness.  He was flying from Puerto Rico back to his home in Hawaii when a layover forced him to hotel for the night in Texas.   According to the Sydney Morning Herald , Irons was hospitalised for 2 days in Miami, prior to leaving for Texas.    His body was found the next day by hotel workers.  A former world champion surfer Mark Occhilupo had reported to the Sydney Herald that Irons had previously had Dengue Fever in Bali, several years prior.  This forces international travelers and adventurers to re-examine dengue fever and the severity of illness.

Dengue is considered the fastest growing mosquito-borne illness in the world.  This is largely due to increased insect populations which are believed to be related to warmer climates. Dengue is typically a flu-like illness with severe muscle aches, earning it the nickname “breakbone fever”.  The real trouble with dengue fever comes when a person gets infected a second time.  This second or even third infection with dengue fever can lead to Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF).  This is a much more severe form of the disease and carries a much higher risk of death. 

Dengue Basics:

Also know as “break bone fever” due to the intense muscle aches and pains it is reported to cause, dengue is an arbovirus.  Dengue comes in four different sero-types numbered one through four (D1, D2, D3, D4).  Typical symptoms include a high fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, rash and bleeding problems such as from the gums or nose.  

Dengue Locations:

A great map can be found here , thanks to the CDC and Healthmap.org

Transmission and Incubation:

Dengue is generally transmitted by the Aedes mosquito and has an incubation period of around 5 days.

Prevention:

Dengue can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites.  This is best done with a combination of DEET insect repellent, long sleeves and pants and permethrin soaked bed nets and clothing. 

Diagnosis:

Blood test using serology for dengue virus

Treatment:

There is no cure or vaccine for Dengue fever.  Care is supportive meaning that only symptoms are controlled.  Fluid is given for low blood pressure and dehydration, fever is reduced and comfort measures are applied.

Clearly, Andy Irons was a traveler and adventurer.  He found himself in locations all over the wold, chasing his surfing lifestyle.  Any number of his trips could have seen him infected with Dengue fever.  With Dengue, the problem is not the first infection…It is the second or third that can kill you.  Often times, a traveler acquires dengue and thinks it is merely a severe “cold or flu”.  They are sick for a few days or a week, they get better and go on with their life.  However, the body remembers this and when this traveler acquires another dengue infection, it can progress to hemorrhagic fever.   

With autopsy results still pending, Andy Irons death is a mystery.  Hopefully, travelers will see this possible cause of death and be vigilant on their protection from insect bites.  Andy is survived by his wife who is also expecting their first child.

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