There is a danger lurking that is no less deadly than Covid-19, and this bloodborne pathogen is going ignored.
This deadly menace is Dengue Disease, caused by the Dengue virus. Overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, this menace has spread. Who is in danger, and how can you stay safe?
If you are wondering about the status of this deadly tropical disease, you are not alone. Read on to learn about how transmission works, and what to look for in a case of Dengue Disease.
What Is Dengue Disease?
Dengue disease is a tropical and sub-tropical disease transmitted through mosquitos of the Aedes species. Only the female mosquito of the species can transmit the virus. When bit by an infected mosquito, an individual has a high probability of contracting the virus.
It is common in regions across the world, but particularly prevalent in South East Asia and Latin America. About half of the world’s population is currently at risk of contracting the disease.
Dengue mosquitoes bite throughout the day. They tend to bite more frequently during the hours when individuals are likely to be working outdoors.
In many regions of the world, Dengue Disease is a fairly common illness with the capability of becoming an epidemic. In the west, however, the illness is almost unheard of. This lack of awareness means that less attention is being given to this deadly disease, and could be contributing to its spread.
This is problematic because Dengue has four distinct serotypes. This means that individuals at risk for a Dengue infection can contract the infection four times. This increases the risk of developing Severe Dengue, the most lethal form of the disease.
Meanwhile, the spread of Dengue is ongoing. It continues to have a significant impact on the socio-economic situation in many South East Asian countries. Lately, cases have been rising.
What Are the Symptoms?
Dengue Disease can present in several ways. Cases are on a spectrum from mild to severe and deadly.
The mildest form of the disease is subclinical. This is the best-case scenario, as individuals will not suffer any outward symptoms. Because of the prevalence of the disease and the many serotypes, however, an individual remains at risk.
An average mild case of Dengue may present with a fever, rash, and nausea or vomiting. Patients can expect overall muscle pain, as well as pain behind the eyes.
More severe cases might involve abdominal pain, excessive vomiting, and extreme fatigue. Any bleeding, either from the nose or in the stool, is a sign that a patient requires immediate medical attention.
In the average case, symptoms last for no longer than a week.
The more severe cases of Dengue can mimic flu symptoms. The worst cases, known as Severe Dengue, might involve severe bleeding, plasma leakage, and organ impairment. Severe Dengue leads to hospitalization and death in many cases.
Treatment and Immunity
Once infected with a serotype, most patients become immune to future infections of that serotype. Subsequent infections of other serotypes tend to be more severe. This increases the risk of Severe Dengue and, therefore, death.
A vaccine exists, but it is not universally effective due to varying antibody rates. An effective vaccine has proven very difficult to develop.
No specific treatment exists for either Dengue Disease or Severe Dengue. Those suffering should seek medical attention for symptom management. This is particularly important in instances of Severe Dengue.
Why Are Cases Increasing?
In many countries, there is a large and growing population of dengue mosquitoes. As long as these eggs are available in the environment, the mosquitoes will continue to hatch and breed.
In some regions, there are millions of mosquitoes lurking in the soil. Each one of those mosquitos represents one potentially deadly case of Dengue Disease.
There is some indication that rising temperatures due to climate change may be affecting spread. Scientists have observed cases rising as the temperature rises. This is because the mosquitoes do best at temperatures ranging from 18 to 40 Degrees Celcius.
The rising global temperature is shifting many countries into the comfortable range for these mosquitoes. This is making the problem worse in warmer areas and causing a new problem in formerly cooler ones.
Mosquitos might die or leave an area as temperatures drop below 18 degrees. Cities are staying warmer for longer, so mosquito populations are lingering.
Because there is no natural immunity to the virus even in the most affected areas, more mosquitoes always mean more infections.
Recent Disease Escalation
While the coronavirus epidemic has kept the world distracted, Dengue Disease has had the opportunity to spread. In fact, in some Asian countries, that stay-at-home orders may have lead to an increase in cases.
Research shows that mosquito bites are more common in the home than in the workplace. This is especially true in urban areas, where mosquitos are likely to congregate near residential drainage networks. It is also the case in many rural areas, where drainage infrastructure exists in residential zones.
The good news is that research into this phenomenon has provided insight into new ways to prevent the spread. This can lead to a reduction of rates as we emerge at the other end of the Coronavirus epidemic.
Ways to Prevent Dengue
Prevention of the disease begins with the management of the mosquitos themselves. Locating the sites where mosquitos breed is key to eliminating infected populations in at-risk areas.
Dengue mosquitos from the Aedes species breed in water. This makes all water containers potential sites for outbreaks. This includes water storage containers as large as tanks or cisterns, or as small as coconut shells or discarded bottles. The infection is no less severe if it originates in a discarded cup, so locating these breeding grounds is key.
Once we find these breeding sites, the next step is destroying them. This is easier in the case of small sites, as individuals can discard them themselves. A focus on recycling in affected regions can have a massive impact on public health.
Once we locate these sources, prevention can begin. It can be as simple as covering and mosquito-proofing identified water sources. Individuals should be scrubbing and replacing standing sources of water every week.
June 15th, 2021 marked the tenth anniversary of World Dengue Day. This day of awareness was established to bring awareness to the disease from those who might be able to help stop the spread. For the past few years, this day of awareness was overshadowed by attempts to stem the flow of the more pervasive coronavirus.
The day was originally established by the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases. They believe addressing the disease is a matter of urgency. The only way to tackle the problem is to address it on a global scale.
ISNTD-associated physicians believe that the key to putting an end to Dengue is policy change. It is no coincidence that the disease is more prevalent in countries with few financial resources. The physicians believe that the disease will only continue to spread in these regions if something is not done.
The goal of establishing World Dengue Day was to bring the issue to the attention of an international audience. They would like to see a response similar to the response to Malaria awareness initiatives. When the global community becomes aware of this rapidly progressing disease, physicians hope help will come.
Education as Prevention
One of the keys to preventing and decreasing the prevalence of Dengue long-term is education. Before the pandemic, many communities held seminars for the general public. Governments also hope to educate students about Dengue in colleges and schools.
Steps are being taken to educate the affected population in less formal ways. This includes spreading information through the media. The success of such initiatives is dependent on funding.
There are many ways to help stop the spread of Dengue at the household level. A dedication to recycling would eliminate opportunities for water to gather in discarded containers.
It would also prevent the spread of myths surrounding the disease. For example, in some communities, there is a belief that papaya leaf extract is a cure. This could prevent affected individuals from seeking medical attention, and lead to preventable deaths.
You Can Help Prevent the Spread of Dengue Disease
Even as the coronavirus pandemic winds down, Dengue Disease is here to stay. Understanding this bloodborne pathogen is the first step toward reducing instances of the disease in the third world.