Dengue Fever A Worldwide and American Threat

Increased international air travel, growing urbanization and rising temperature trends make mosquito bite induced diseases more of a danger. Tropical Dengue fever (the fatal strain is known as Dengue Hemorrhagic fever) is making a comeback in the United States after not being a risk for decades.

Dengue fever, carried by Aedes albopictus or Asian Tiger Mosquito, as well as Aedes Aegypti, has seen recent outbreaks in Hawaii (2001) and presently an increasing number of cases along the Texas-Mexico border. Dr. David Morens and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have predicted in a recent Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) article that a spread northwards of the disease is likely.

“Since its introduction into the United States in 1985, Aedes albopictus has spread to 36 states, bringing with it an increased risk of dengue outbreaks. Moreover, as dengue has reemerged throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean, its fatal form, dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), has appeared in many countries as well as in Puerto Rico,” the two researchers stated.

In the article, Fauci and Morens compared the trend of Dengue fever to the recent outbreaks of the mosquito driven West Nile Virus, which killed 98 individuals in the continental United States last year. As recently as 1998, West Nile Virus was not thought to be a real risk to the continental United States, but there have been cases reported as far north as upstate New York.

The same mistake should not be made in the case of the dangerous and increasingly prevalent Dengue fever, Fauci and Morens caution, because knowledge and treatment of the disease greatly reduces the chance of fatality.

“Worldwide, dengue is among the most important reemerging infectious diseases with an estimated 50 million to 100 million annual cases, 500 000 hospitalizations (often requiring intensive care), and, by WHO [World Health Organization] estimates, 22 000 deaths, mostly in children. Fortunately, standardized [medical] therapy coupled with intensive education in many countries, most notably in Thailand, has greatly reduced case-fatality rates.”

In typical cases, Dengue fever causes mild fevers and often bleeding from the gums and nasal passages. In more severe cases, and when not treated, severe fever and death can result. Knowledge of the disease, and its potential risks, are the best protection against it, as well as wearing bug spray in mosquito infested areas. Dengue fever is a “growing international health problem for the foreseeable future,” even for those previously low-risk areas in the United States.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Morens, David. Fauci, Anthony. JAMA. “Dengue and Hemorrhagic Fever: A Potential Threat to Public Health in the United States.” January 2008.