News / Health

Experts Troubled by New Dengue Outbreaks in Western Hemisphere

Vidushi Sinha
Dengue fever - a tropical disease once confined mainly to Africa and Asia - has become a growing problem in the Americas.  So far, there is no drug to treat the mosquito-borne viral disease or any vaccine to prevent the infection.  Public health experts say it has the potential to become a global health problem - more costly and difficult to control than malaria.

“Dengue had been eliminated in this hemisphere for quite a while but unfortunately it got reintroduced and has been generally growing since then," said Donald Shepherd.

Donald Shepherd spoke to VOA via Skype.  He and his colleagues studied the economic burden of dengue fever on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory).  Shepherd says the figure they came up with was staggering.

“The economic cost of dengue averages $40 million per year," he said. "For the moderate size that Puerto Rico is it’s a substantial amount of money.”

Dengue is a viral infection spread by the bite of a small, stripe-bellied mosquito called Aedes aegypti. Outbreaks commonly rise after heavy summer rains, which create stagnant-water breeding areas for the mosquitoes that carry the virus.  

Dengue can cause high fevers, headaches, severe muscle and joint pain, lack of appetite and fatigue.  And in many parts of Asia and Africa where it is still endemic, the disease can prove fatal:

“A nasty feature of dengue is something that microbiologists call 'antibodies enhancement' - such that if you have had one of the dengue serotypes and then you get another one then the second one is a more severe illness than it would have been the first time," said Shepherd.

Experts say people can usually recover from these severe bouts of dengue, even with no drugs to fight the virus.  But they need to receive good medical care, especially close monitoring of bodily fluids, and proper diagnosis of dengue's high fever, -- which can be mistakenly blamed on more common causes.

Dr. Dan Stinchcomb is the chief executive officer of Inviragen, which is developing a vaccine against the multiple dengue viruses.  He says developing a safe vaccine has been a significant challenge.

“Because dengue is a problem that affects different ages throughout the world.  In Southeast Asia it's mainly a childhood disease, but in Central and South America and other parts of Asia it can still affect adults as well," said Stinchcomb.

Experts say because the cost of treating dengue victims is so high, it's important that affected countries strengthen their traditional disease surveillance, prevention, and control efforts - until a drug or vaccine is available to combat the virus.

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Comments
     
by: mike harrison from: london, UK
May 18, 2012 5:50 AM
DENGUE FEVER ERADICATION
It is not just about fogging or spraying………………..
Through my company's work with natural mosquito repellents I am very aware of the dangers associated with dengue fever and am rather surprised at some of the medical professions lack of diligence to make sure the patient cannot spread the disease. The issue is that whilst the patient is running with a temperature in the febrile stage he or she is acting as a reservoir of the Dengue virus and when bitten at this stage by another mosquito then the disease spreads. An air conditioned room will keep away most mosquitoes, however without that luxury one must protect the patient AT ALL TIMES with repellent. The problem is that the active chemical ingredient DEET used in most repellents is not to be used too often or over applied, particularly to younger patients.The other problem is that DEET products tend to be rather oily, somewhat harsh on the skin and certainly uncomfortable to 'wear' all day -and it has to be all day for the Dengue fever carrier - Aedes aegypti - is active all day and not just at dawn and dusk as with most species of mosquito. The answer is a repellent proven effective against Aedes aegypti that can safely and comfortably be worn all day with absolutely no harmful chemical build up. You may well have guessed my company has such a product and we would love to think we could help stop the spread of the disease from the patient whilst also being the first line of defence for the nursing staff. It seems strange to us that even the World Health Organisations advice on caring for Dengue fever patients does not include the simple advice of protecting the patient from further bites, which of course is where the mosquito will get more 'ammunition' for its sometimes deadly work.

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