Medical Mondays: Dengue Fever & Autonomic Nervous System

Ask The Book Doctor!

Today, I’ll be answering questions posed to me via The Big Thrill–the International Thriller Writers online newsletter. If you’re a writer or a fan of books, TV shows, or movies and have a medical-themed question you’d like to see answered in this weekly column, check out submission guidelines at the bottom of this column!


Q. How common is dengue fever becoming and is it something to worry about living in South Florida? Susan P.

A. Dengue fever, also called “breakbone fever,” is a viral illness characterized by high fever, headache, rash, muscle, and joint pain. It is spread by mosquitoes, but has not been seen in American mosquitoes since the 1930s. It is most common in tropical areas of SE Asia and Africa. Although 100 million people get dengue fever yearly worldwide, only 25,000 die. It is estimated that 80% of those infected have mild or no symptoms. (By comparison, seasonal influenza in the US kills about 30,000 per year.) There have been a few recent cases of dengue fever in the Florida Keys, but like the other cases noted in the state, they were likely acquired outside the United States. No American recently diagnosed with this condition has died when treated by a doctor, so the risk is very low, although some suffer hemorrhage or shock. Common sense precautions are always advised, so if you (or anyone around you) exhibit these symptoms, it’s best to consult with a doctor.

Q. Which system of the body is responsible for regulating the activity of all body systems? Dennis M.

A. The brain, specifically the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), gets the credit since the brain is the body’s main computer and the other systems are linked to it, such as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. For example, the ANS helps regulate blood pressure. When we stand up from a lying position, the brain is instrumental in managing arterial and cardiac connections so that blood flow is maintained. Most organic systems are semi-autonomous. The lungs won’t work at all without the brain, but the heart has its own natural pacemaker. Other organs like the liver and the spleen however, are minimally affected by the ANS.


Attention writers! If you’re working on a book, script, or article and need quick insight or advice on a medical condition that affects a character or impacts a storyline, please email your question to I’ll post answers to two questions every Monday on this blog!

Please note: Due the volume of requests received, I am not able to provide personal responses. Questions should pertain to characters or stories you’re writing, books you’re reading, TV shows/movies you’re watching, or health issues in the news. If you have a question or concern about a personal health issue, please contact your doctor.