As officials in Brazil frantically mount a last-minute campaign to combat the recent outbreak of dengue fever in the country before the beginning of the World Cup, new data has been released documenting the shocking resurgence of the disease.
Officials with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reported this week that cases of dengue fever have nearly quintupled in Latin America, in just the last 10 years.
According to PAHO, in 2013 there were more than 2.3 million cases and 1,289 deaths. A decade ago, only 517,617 cases were documented in Latin America. Uncontrolled urbanization, absence of basic services, failure to control the environment and climate change, were blamed for the spread of the disease. The report said that nearly 500 million people in the Americas now live at risk of contracting dengue.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease with symptoms very similar to the flu. While there are four closely related viruses that can cause dengue fever, they are all carried by female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and in more northern regions, the Aedes albopictus. Dengue fever is most prevalent in South and Central America, as well as Southeast Asia, Africa and the Western Pacific. Globally the prevalence of the disease has seen a dramatic uptick since the 1980s. Its spread has been linked to the changing climate as temperatures increase, rainfall patterns change and summers become longer, the range and active seasons for the mosquitoes that carry dengue have expanded.
In 2009–2010, Florida experienced the first dengue outbreak in the continental U.S. since the end of World War II. Last summer, there were 21 cases of dengue in the state and the mosquito that carries dengue was discovered for the first time in California. Texas now also routinely documents cases of locally-acquired dengue.
The disease is known colloquially as “breakbone fever,” as extreme joint and muscle pain are the telltale symptoms, usually accompanied by headache and fever. While half of people who contract dengue fever experience no symptoms at all, about one percent die. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is the most dangerous form of the disease which can lead to organ failure and death. There is no treatment or vaccine for dengue. The World Health Organization estimates anywhere from 50 million to 100 million people contract the disease globally every year.
Along with dengue fever, lyme disease, west nile, and chikungunya are all also spreading thanks to climate change.