Though similar to malaria in its mode of transmission, dengue fever is its own monster. With up to 400 million people infected every year, dengue has been a leading cause of illness and death worldwide since the 1950s. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.5 billion people around the world are at risk of contracting dengue fever.
Dengue is spread through the bite of a female Aedes aegypti mosquito, a species that seeks out prey during the daytime. The mosquito has recently spread to areas in North America and Europe, though it typically resides in tropical areas. Its presence in tourist destinations like Puerto Rico have caused a global spread, and put more people at risk.
Upon contracting dengue, symptoms present in a manner similar to the flu with high fever, headache, aches and pains and vomiting. The secondary symptoms require immediate treatment to ensure that dengue runs its course without escalation.
However, in developing countries where adequate medical care is unavailable, dengue fever escalates to dengue hemorrhagic fever, which is characterized by more extreme symptoms including hemorrhaging. This can then lead to dengue shock syndrome, and in 50 percent of shock cases there is a fatality.
There is no vaccine or treatment for dengue fever, but there are many preventative measures that can be taken to minimize infection. Insecticide can prevent transmission of the virus, as can mosquito nets and clothing that covers exposed skin. Additionally, proper disposal of waste and trash can cut down on mosquitoes.
While in developed countries dengue fever is very survivable, usually lasting between two and seven days, this virus hits the developing world much harder. Not only is there a higher prevalence in many impoverished tropical areas, they are also least equipped to prevent and handle dengue fever when it occurs.
The presence of such a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease worsens the poverty conditions in a country, in which a community needs resources and money to better protect themselves from the disease. Before that can happen, they need to be able to establish a healthy community to begin the transition out of poverty. This vicious cycle is difficult to overcome, making organizations like the World Health Organization instrumental in keeping these countries afloat.
The WHO assists in minimizing the burden of dengue fever by supporting “countries in the confirmation of outbreaks through its collaborating network of laboratories,” providing “technical support and guidance to countries for the effective management of dengue outbreaks,” and a slew of other helpful measures.
Raising awareness about the causes of dengue fever, as well as how to prevent it in the first place, is the first and most important step toward minimizing outbreaks, especially in the developing world. With the assistance of humanitarian organizations and the training of medical professionals to better respond to the virus, dengue fever will become a more manageable virus with fewer fatalities.
— Maggie Wagner