While the world focuses on Zika, Dengue is raging in the background

For very good reason, Zika virus has been dominating the media recently. With continued efforts to determine and define the link between Zika virus and cases of microcephaly, as well as the link between Zika virus and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, the global focus on Zika virus has never been higher.

The unfortunate part about the media is that they only cover the topics that are the most thrilling and in many instances, the most fear-inducing. Remember that old virus Ebola? The media couldn’t cover the Ebola epidemic enough when there was a threat to high-income countries due to potentially infectious travelers, but now that the epidemic is over no one hears about the continued challenges faced by the survivors. The media has moved on…..to Zika virus.

I’m not here to say that the media coverage of Zika virus isn’t worthwhile. It is. Maybe it’s a little too fear-provoking in many instances but we humans fear what we do not know, and there’s a lot we don’t know right now about Zika virus. Instead, I’m here to point your attention to another mosquito-borne virus that is wreaking havoc around the world but isn’t as “sexy” as the new virus in town, and that’s good ole Dengue virus.

Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that causes flu-like symptoms but can develop into fatal severe dengue also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, is one of the world’s fastest spreading tropical diseases. According to the WHO, the incidence of dengue has increased 30-fold over the last 50 years. Currently 50 to 100 million infections happen every year in the more than 100 endemic countries.

Dengue virus is endemic in parts of Asia, the Americas and the Caribbean.

Map 3-03. Distribution of dengue in Asia and Oceania

Map of Dengue in Asia. Courtesy CDC.

Map 3-01. Distribution of dengue in the Americas and the Caribbean

Map of Dengue in the Americas and the Caribbean. Courtesy CDC.

Currently Dengue virus is raging around various parts of the world. Mexico is reporting a Dengue outbreak with 10,000 cases as of Feb 15, up from almost 7,000 during the same period last year. Uruguay might have seen its first locally transmitted case ever, which is a big deal because Uruguay is one of the few South American countries that does not have Dengue virus. Throughout South America, Brazil is reporting almost 117,000 cases, Columbia more than 16,000 cases, Paraguay more than 17,000 and Argentina more than 9,000.
Thailand is seeing an outbreak of Dengue as the number of cases has more than doubled since last year and officials are anticipating more than 166,000 cases this year. Singapore saw a spike in Dengue cases back in February and officials there are predicting more than 30,000 cases this year, up from the record number reported in 2013. Dengue is on the rise in Malaysia where at least 100 cases are being reported each week.

Dengue map. Courtesy HealthMap.org

Dengue map. Courtesy HealthMap.org

There is one recent positive in the battle against Dengue and that’s the development of the world’s first Dengue vaccine. The vaccine, branded Dengvaxia and made by Sanofi Pasteur, is licensed for use in Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil and El Salvador. The vaccine can be administered to people aged 9 to 45 years and took over 2 decades to develop. The Philippines is the first country to implement the vaccine and health officials plan to immunize 1 million school-children over 12 months. However, some experts caution that Dengvaxia is not perfect (no vaccine is) and does not protect equally against the four serotypes of Dengue virus. But the vaccine can become an important part of a country’s numerous tools for Dengue prevention.

Maybe with the new vaccine the global tide will turn on Dengue fever, time will tell.

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