Dengue Fever: A Growing Threat in the US
The World Health Organization has issued a warning about the potential threat of dengue fever in the United States.
The organization’s chief scientist, Sir Jeremy Farrar, has raised concerns that this mosquito-borne disease could establish itself in the southern US and southern Europe before 2030.
The primary driver behind this threat is the warming climate, which allows disease-carrying mosquitoes to penetrate deeper into these regions.
Currently, dengue fever claims approximately 20,000 lives annually, mainly in Asia and South America, with a fatality rate of one death per 100 patients.
Local Spread and Traveler-Induced Infections
While the US records around 1,200 dengue fever cases annually, with nearly 600 being locally acquired infections, there are growing concerns about the disease’s spread.
Recent cases in California, including the first locally-acquired infection in a decade, indicate a potential shift.
Scientists warn that if infected mosquitoes from Mexico venture further north, dengue fever could become endemic in the US.
Additionally, infected travelers arriving in the US could introduce the virus if they are bitten by local mosquitoes, which can then transmit the disease to others.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the disease, is already present in some southern areas and is active at all hours, capable of breeding in the smallest water pools.
The Urgent Need for Preparation and Vigilance
Dr. Farrar emphasized the need for proactive discussions about dengue fever and the importance of preparing countries to handle the growing pressure the disease may bring.
He expressed concerns about the intensive clinical care required and the high nurse-to-patient ratio when dengue fever becomes a significant issue in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dengue outbreaks do occur in the United States, but they have been relatively small and limited.
Experts warn that the rising temperatures could pave the way for the disease to become more entrenched.
Understanding Dengue Fever
Dengue fever is a viral infection transmitted through mosquito bites.
While most patients remain asymptomatic, approximately half develop warning signs, such as sudden headaches, fever, pain behind the eyes, and severe joint pain, often referred to as “breakbone fever.”
In severe cases, the disease can lead to life-threatening complications like dengue shock syndrome and encephalitis, or brain swelling.
Treatment involves pain medications, fluids, and close monitoring, making it labor-intensive and straining hospital resources.
A vaccine called Qdenga is available but awaits FDA approval for use in the United States.