Dengue fever is one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in the world, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating 390 million cases of dengue each year, with as many as two and a half billion people at risk from the disease.
Dengue is a tropical disease (caused by a virus with four separate serotypes) which is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. The vast majority of cases are found in the Asia Pacific region, but Aedes mosquitoes, which transmit dengue, have expanded into areas including Australia, the United States, southern Europe and Africa.
Dengue starts with a fever that lasts for about seven days, and is accompanied by headaches and muscle or bone pain. Symptoms of moderate dengue include nausea, vomiting, pain in the eyes and rashes on the upper and lower limbs.
There is no specific treatment available, so timely interventions are crucial for saving lives. Severe forms of dengue include dengue haemorrhagic fever, characterised by low blood counts and bleeding, and dengue shock syndrome, characterised by low blood pressure, which can lead to death. For these cases, intravenous fluids and blood transfusions are the required courses of treatment.
Severe dengue is most commonly found in Asian and Latin American countries, with children being particularly susceptible to the disease. With quick and effective treatment fatality rates are below one percent of cases; but the rapid growth of dengue, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas, means that the disease has become a major international public health concern.
Due to similarities in symptoms between dengue and malaria, there is often confusion when diagnosing and effectively treating dengue. The most rational and effective approach is to prevent the transmission. This is complicated as the mosquitos carrying the dengue virus bite mainly during the day so the use of mosquito nets at night does not provide adequate protection. Killing the mosquito or preventing it from breeding are the most effective approaches to control.
Increased surveillance and management of outbreaks of dengue will help to reduce mortality rates and so community seminars promoting training and early treatment are also effective tools. Research into better control and treatment options is also underway, including the development of improved diagnostics, antiviral medications and vaccines.
Malaria Consortium has been working in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand, implementing these preventative strategies as well as using innovative vector control programmes to combat the rise of dengue fever.
To learn more about dengue, visit the WHO page here.