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WHO Reports New Epidemics of Dengue Fever

New epidemics of dengue fever are being reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). The disease is a severe flu-like illness transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The agency says the new outbreaks are in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

In 1998, tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world were hit with outbreaks of dengue and its more severe form, dengue hemorrhagic fever, unlike any seen before.

World Health Organization specialist Mike Nathan said similar epidemics already are underway in Latin America and Southeast Asia. "In 1998, we had a pandemic, and it affected much of the tropics all more or less at the same time," he said, noting that a record "1.2 million cases approximately were reported to WHO in 1998. This only really represents the tip of the iceberg. We estimate there probably is more than 50 million infections per year."

The World Health Organization estimates 2.2 billion people, about 40 percent of the world's population, are at risk from dengue. The disease is endemic in more than 100 countries in Africa, the Americas, the eastern Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia.

A person with dengue fever suffers headaches and severe joint pain. The disease is rarely fatal. However, the more serious form, dengue hemorrhagic fever, kills about five percent of the victims, mostly children and young adults.

Dengue thrives in urban areas in homes with inadequate water storage and sanitation.

Mr. Nathan says countries must combat the dengue-carrying mosquito with insecticides before epidemics break out. "The challenge is to make the investment between the epidemics to try and bring mosquito populations down, to keep the mosquito population in check so you cannot in fact start an epidemic," he said. "But you have to bring that population down a long way. So, I think that is the real challenge. Lots of money gets thrown at the epidemic, but not in the intervening period."

The World Health Organization also says better waste disposal and water storage will eliminate the mosquitoes' breeding grounds.