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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 watch out for cases, as the risk of infection has increased this year.

Why the wave?

Several factors are driving the increase in dengue. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus, thrives in warm, humid environments. Climate change is creating the ideal conditions for these mosquitoes to expand their range and become more numerous. Additionally, urbanization brings people closer to mosquito breeding grounds, increasing the chance of bites.

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, has declared a public health emergency due to the outbreak.

The Dengue Threat in the United States

The continental United States has thus far avoided widespread local transmission of dengue. However, a few 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 an increased risk for some people. A newer vaccine shows promise but is not yet available in the United States.

Fighting

Some countries are having success in controlling dengue. Singapore uses aggressive tactics such as searching homes for breeding grounds and imposing heavy fines. Brazil and Colombia are experimenting with 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 needed. Finding new ways to control mosquito populations and developing effective vaccines are critical steps in the fight against dengue fever.

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