According to the World Health Organization, over 40 percent of the population of the world is at risk of an epidemic of a mosquito-borne disease known as dengue fever. In the past 50 years, the annual number of cases has increased from about 15,000 to up to 390 million. It has gone from being contained to about nine countries to being found in over 100 countries.
The disease carries a 2.5 percent mortality rate and is the prevailing cause of illness related death in the tropics. Because there is no way to vaccinate for the disease and there is no cure, prevention is of paramount importance. While there is no outbreak of dengue fever at the present time, according to the Epidemiology and Global Health unit at Umeå University, there is an imminent risk of an epidemic starting in Europe. The mosquito which carries the disease has now established itself in sizable portions of Europe and the living conditions for the pests are ideal.
The bite of an infected mosquito can cause symptoms such as headache, fever, muscle pains, swollen glands, nausea, and a rash. There is no known antiviral to treat the disease so caregivers can only treat the symptoms. Dehydration prevention is one of the most important treatments along with adequate rest. Some of the only medications usable for the fever are acetaminophen and codeine. The usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or aspirin is not recommended as these drugs can actually cause further complications which may include excessive bleeding.
Climate changes have increased the risk of a dengue fever epidemic. Already, there have been ongoing outbreaks in the last several years. France reported an outbreak in 2010 while Croatia suffered one in the year 2012. Over 2,000 cases were reported from an outbreak in Madeira, a Portuguese archipelago. Modeling indicates that areas in central and southern Europe which previously had much lower outbreak potentials are currently at risk of a possible epidemic. Weather and climate data have been used to predict potential areas of risk.
The mosquito which carries the disease is the aedes aegypti mosquito. They commonly breed in stagnant water left in uncovered containers but also have adapted to a dry environment. The eggs produced by this pest can remain dry for a number of months before hatching. The egg can stick to something dry and much later, perhaps months, can come into contact with water and hatch. Due to the movement of both trade goods and people, this allows the mosquito to be transported to new and diverse areas.
According to medical aid organizations, because treatment options are so limited, prevention is the best defense. Free-standing water and trash should be emptied or covered in order to limit breeding grounds. Doors and windows should be blocked or covered with screens. Repellents should be regularly used both during the day and at night. The aedes aegypti mosquito is known to bite during the day as well as at dusk or night.
Anyone can suffer from the bite of an infected mosquito and come down with symptoms. The flu-like symptoms last from two to seven days unless it progresses to severe dengue. The more severe form requires hospital care and may result in fatalities. Researchers state that the risk of dengue fever becoming epidemic in Europe is high and the disease can be seen worldwide. The World Health Organization indicates there are millions of cases across the globe annually with about 500,000 of those people requiring hospitalization.
By Dee Mueller
on twitter @TuesdayDG