A global threat with no easy fix

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Mosquito-borne dengue fever is spreading rapidly around the world, reaching record highs 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. Additionally, urbanization brings people closer to mosquito breeding grounds, increasing opportunities for 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, declared a public health emergency due to the outbreak.

The Dengue Threat in the US

The continental US has so 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 highest for travelers returning from dengue-endemic countries.

A Serious Illness

Dengue fever can cause a range of symptoms, from mild flu-like illness to severe dengue, which can be fatal. There is no cure for dengue, and treatment focuses on managing symptoms. Developing a successful vaccine has been challenging, with one vaccine showing increased risk for some people. A newer vaccine shows promise but isn’t yet available in the US.

Fighting Back

Some countries are finding success in controlling dengue. Singapore uses aggressive tactics like inspecting homes for breeding grounds and imposing hefty 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 the US may not see widespread outbreaks due to factors like 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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