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Dengue fever incidence is growing dangerously fast in the world’s tropical regions. In the absence of adequate treatments, the proper control of disease spread is the best way of preventing the infections.

Dengue fever is one of those tropical diseases that receive very little attention, even though it is quite common. Like most of these “orphan” or “neglected” diseases, dengue has no effective treatments, thus leaving many people vulnerable to the potential complications of this illness.

The name “dengue fever” is well known in Western countries, but few people really have any idea what exactly this disease is.

Although known for millennia, the disease wasn’t particularly frequent until the World War II. Ecological changes in the 20th century led to widespread distribution and epidemics of dengue throughout the tropical regions. Incidence of disease has increased by 30 fold from 1960. Dengue fever has now become a global health issue affecting more than 110 countries and has been taking a toll on the health of millions.

What is dengue fever?

The disease is sometimes referred to as the breakbone fever. This reflects the fact that infected individuals suffer severe muscle and joint pain, in addition to headache, fever and skin rash. The disease is caused by dengue virus which is spread through insect bites.  Symptoms might take up to two weeks to appear after infection.

Untreated patients may develop symptoms of the advanced stage, the dengue hemorrhagic fever. These patients display bleeding disorders, abnormally low counts of blood platelets and leakage of blood plasma. Some can develop the dengue shock syndrome, where the patient’s blood pressure falls dangerously low. Affected individuals experience pain at its worst, shortness of breath, and may develop circulatory failure which can lead to death. Fortunately, severe illness and life threatening complications are rare. In fact, 

Around 80% of infected people are asymptomatic or experience only very mild flu-like symptoms. Mortality without treatment is 1-5%.

Geographic distribution of dengue fever

Usually carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the dengue fever is common in the areas inhabited by this insect. This covers significant part of world’s tropical and subtropical regions. There are four types of dengue virus. Infection with one type provides life-long immunity towards that type but only a short-term immunity to the other dengue types. With another dengue infection, the risk for complications also rises.

It is estimated that approximately 50—100 million individuals from Latin America alone get infected with the disease yearly. Nowadays, about two-fifths of the world's population is at risk as they reside in dengue-endemic countries. Although dengue infection is rare in the United States, it is endemic in nearby Puerto Rico. Periodic incidence is also noted in the Pacific countries like Samoa and Guam. 

The illness also greatly affects the population of South-East Asia. During this year alone, it has already affected almost 10,000 individuals in the region. Two dengue-related deaths were registered in Singapore. In Thailand, 40,000 cases and 40 deaths were registered.

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  • Photo courtesy of Emy Abi Thomas, Mary John,1 and Bimal Kanish by Wikimedia Commons :
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