Dengue fever on the rise: a global threat with no easy solution

Dengue fever on the rise: a global threat with no easy solution
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Mosquito-borne dengue fever is spreading rapidly around the world, reaching record levels and even popping up in unexpected places. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning doctors in the United States to be on the lookout for cases as the risk of infection has increased this year.

Why the surge?

Several factors are driving the rise of dengue. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus, thrives in warm, humid environments. Climate change is creating ideal conditions for these mosquitoes to expand their range and become more numerous. Urbanization is also bringing people closer to mosquito breeding grounds, increasing the chances of being bitten.

A global problem

While tropical countries like Brazil have long battled dengue, the disease is now reaching new regions. Places like France, Italy and even Chad in Africa have seen outbreaks in recent years. The Americas have been particularly hard hit, with cases doubling in the first half of 2024 compared to all of 2023. Puerto Rico, classified as a high-risk area, declared a public health emergency over the outbreak.

The Dengue Threat in the United States

The continental United States has so far avoided widespread local transmission of dengue. However, several hundred cases have been reported, and Florida health officials recently urged residents to take precautions after a locally acquired case. The risk is greatest for travelers returning from dengue-endemic countries.

A serious illness

Dengue fever can cause a range of symptoms, from a mild flu-like illness to severe dengue, which can be fatal. There is no cure for dengue and treatment focuses on managing symptoms. Developing an effective vaccine has been challenging, as one vaccine has shown a higher risk for some people. A newer vaccine shows promise but is not yet available in the United States.

Fighting

Some countries are achieving success in controlling dengue. Singapore uses aggressive tactics such as inspecting homes for breeding grounds and imposing large fines. Brazil and Colombia are testing a bacterium that prevents mosquitoes from transmitting the virus.

The future of dengue

Experts believe dengue will continue to spread globally. While widespread outbreaks may not occur in the United States due to factors such as air conditioning, vigilance is still necessary. Finding new ways to control mosquito populations and developing effective vaccines are crucial steps in the fight against dengue fever.

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