The Surging Tide of Dengue Fever – Dengue Fevere Is Spreading

2010-01-05 | |
Last updated: 2010-01-05

Often described as a disease of the tropics and something to be concerned about mostly when one is traveling to such destinations, Dengue Fever is proving to be a problem in more Western nations than ever before. Just last November, University of Florida researchers reported that they were monitoring the local situation as the result of having observed 20 cases of Dengue Fever that had been transmitted locally. The situation in Florida is the first time in 50 years that the virus has circulated in this manner within the state.

dengue fever mosquito

Unfortunately, the situation in Florida is not an isolated one and the number of cases of Dengue Fever is increasing all over the world at an alarming rate. For example, Mexico has seen the number of reported cases increase from about 1800 in 2000 to 33000 in 2008. Similarly, Malaysia has seen its number of cases increase by almost 30 times from 1400 cases in 1986 to more than 31000 cases in just the first 9 months of 2009. Such numbers are indeed sobering.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 40% of the world population is currently at risk for Dengue Fever and some 50 to 100 million people will be affected annually. While many people can be infected and face no perceivable symptoms, the death rate from infection by the virus is less than 1% when treated, but 20% or more when treatment is not received. Currently Dengue Fever is second only to Malaria in terms of numbers of people at risk of infection.

Dengue Fever is a viral infection transmitted from mosquitoes to humans with flu-like symptoms including severe headaches, rash, muscle and joint pain and high fever. Because of the severe pain in the joints that some patients may feel, the condition has also earned the names “break-bone fever” and “bonecrusher disease”.

While this pain can be severe, the worst variation of the disease, called Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF), that occurs in 5% of cases of Dengue Fever can be fatal. Those who develop the hemorrhagic complications of the disease will bleed from the eyes, ears and nose and suffer circulatory failure and shock that can rapidly result in death. With proper treatment, the risks of death are drastically reduced.

At the present, there is no readily available vaccine for the disease but researchers at the Thailand Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences are in trials and expect to have a vaccine by 2013.

This will be very important because there are four major strains of the virus that are different enough that developing immunity for one does not offer protection from subsequent infection by the another variation of the virus. In fact, infection from one makes a person more susceptible to future infection.

Should testing fail to deem the vaccine safe given that development of the vaccine has been very complicated and time consuming, other research taking place in parallel is also increasing understanding of the disease to help fight the disease. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have recently identified more than 100 genes that contribute to the ability of mosquitoes to be infected by the virus. Each of these genes may be used in the future development of methods to the fight the spread of the disease.

Other research efforts aimed at preventing the spread of the disease have taken place at the University of Queensland and use different knowledge about the mosquito. By injecting the mosquito larvae with bacteria that halves the life span of the mosquito and can be passed from one generation of mosquito to the next, the researchers are attempting to take advantage of the fact that Dengue Fever only infects older mosquitoes. If these infected mosquitoes are introduced into the wild, then the rate of spread of the virus could be reduced dramatically.

As for the increased rates of infection being observed, scientists believe that climate change and people’s adaptation to climate change are the key causes for the increase. Researchers in Malaysia have shown that when rain is no longer limited to particular times of year due to climate irregularities, the frequent availability of moisture and warmer temperatures means mosquitoes can breed more often. At the same time, water shortages in some areas mean people are storing more water and these storage tanks are often ideal hatching grounds for the mosquito larvae.

With Dengue Fever rates on the rise, a vaccine cannot come too soon to prevent the many deaths that the disease causes annually. At the same time, in light of the minimal successes achieved regarding development of climate change policies at the Copenhagen meeting, it is important to remind our elected leaders of the health costs of climate change. Dengue fever is but one disease for which climate change is increasing the rate of human infection.

Do you have family living in areas at risk for Dengue Fever? Does the increasing risks of disease infection concern you? Share your opinions and experiences in the forums.

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