The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning on Friday regarding the potential record-high cases of dengue fever this year, attributing the increase in part to global warming, which benefits the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the disease.
Dengue rates have been on the rise globally, with reported cases soaring eight-fold since 2000, reaching 4.2 million in 2022, as reported by the WHO. The disease has been detected in new regions, such as Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, where it was identified for the first time on record in March. Europe has also experienced a surge in cases, and Peru declared a state of emergency in most regions due to the outbreak.
In January, the WHO had already highlighted dengue as the world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease and a potential “pandemic threat.” Approximately half of the world’s population is now considered at risk of contracting the disease, as explained by Dr. Raman Velayudhan, a specialist at the WHO’s department for controlling neglected tropical diseases.
In 2019, reported cases of dengue reached an all-time high, totaling 5.2 million cases in 129 countries. This year, it is projected that there will be “4 million plus” cases, with the Asian monsoon season playing a significant role in determining the final number.
The Americas have already reported close to 3 million cases, and there is concern about the southern spread of the disease to countries like Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. Argentina, facing one of its worst outbreaks in recent years, has taken measures to combat dengue by sterilizing mosquitoes using radiation to alter their DNA before releasing them into the wild.
While the reported cases represent only a fraction of the actual global infections, since most cases are asymptomatic, dengue can still pose a serious threat. The disease causes fever and muscle pain and is fatal in less than 1% of people.
Global warming contributes to the spread of the disease as it allows mosquitoes to multiply more rapidly, enabling the virus to proliferate within their bodies. Additionally, increased movement of goods and people, urbanization, and issues with sanitation are considered other factors driving the surge in dengue cases.
Regarding the ongoing heatwave affecting the northern hemisphere, it is still uncertain how it will impact the spread of the disease. While extremely high temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) could potentially kill mosquitoes, these insects are adaptable and can breed in water storage containers where the temperature may not reach such extremes. As a result, controlling the spread of dengue remains a significant global health challenge.
Patients with dengue fever should take measures to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, as they can transmit the virus to others. It’s important to note that dengue fever can be a serious illness, especially in certain populations like young children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems. If you suspect you have dengue fever or experience symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, joint and muscle pain, rash, or bleeding, it’s crucial to seek medical attention promptly.