Millions of People Were Infected With Dengue This Year, a New Record as Higher Temperatures Caused the Virus to Flare


Dengue is spreading across the Western Hemisphere at a rate that hasn’t been seen since records began being kept more than 40 years ago. Experts say that rising temperatures and rapid growth are making the spread of the disease faster.

More than 4 million cases have been reported in the Americas and Caribbean so far this year, which is more than the previous record set in 2019. Governments from the Bahamas to Brazil have warned of overcrowded hospitals and new infections every day. There have also been reports of more than 2,000 deaths in that area.

The Pan American Health Organization, which is the Americas’ regional office of the World Health Organization, said, “This year we’ve seen the most dengue in recorded history.”

Thais dos Santos is an adviser on surveillance and control of arboviral diseases. She said that the first records were kept in 1980. We can tell what’s going on with climate change by looking at vector-borne diseases, especially those that are spread by mosquitoes.

Experts claim that climate change-related droughts and floods are increasing the virus’s spread because mosquitoes are drawn to stagnant water and heavy rainfall. While inadequate sanitation and weak health systems have contributed to the increase in cases, this is not the only factor.

A dengue expert from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Puerto Rico, Dr. Gabriela Paz-Bailey, pointed out that warmer weather is expanding mosquito habitats, which speeds up viral development inside the mosquito and increases viral loads and transmission probabilities.

“These infections are a symptom of some big underlying trends happening in the world,” said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, chief scientist of the World Health Organization, in an interview.

“With the rapid urbanization of many countries and the apparent difficulty of addressing climate change, I fear that diseases like dengue will become more common and difficult to control.”

According to Dos Santos, officials are noticing “lots of new things” due to the dengue epidemic, such as longer seasons, record temperatures, and the spread of the disease farther north and south than normal.

For instance, this year marked the first two instances of locally acquired dengue fever in California, and a record-breaking 138 cases in Florida. Florida reported 65 occurrences last year, according to Paz-Bailey.

August was around 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than pre-industrial averages, making this year’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere the hottest ever. Copernicus, the European weather agency, reports that 2023 will be the second warmest year ever.

As of early November, there were over 4.5 million dengue cases recorded globally, and more than 4,000 deaths were reported across 80 nations. According to Farrar, this year might eclipse the 5.2 million cases worldwide record set in 2019.

He stated, “Dengue is something that the Americas need to be concerned about more and more, but it’s almost a global phenomenon now.”

There are unprecedented numbers of illnesses and fatalities in nations like Bangladesh. According to data that has been made public, the government of the South Asian nation has documented more than 313,700 cases and more than 1,600 deaths, with the bulk of them happening three days after hospitalization.

Additionally, 22 European nations have been linked to the dengue-carrying mosquito, and France, Italy, and Spain have reported localized outbreaks of the illness. Chad, in central Africa, reported the first-ever dengue outbreak in August.

The World Health Organization estimates that dengue affects 129 nations and puts around half of the world’s population at risk. The virus is mostly spread by female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes who bite hosts in order to gather protein for their eggs.

Among other symptoms, the virus can cause vomiting, fever, rash, and excruciating headaches. Most infected individuals don’t show any symptoms, but in extreme situations, there may be plasma leakage and even death.

Even worse, doctors say that getting dengue more than once makes you more likely to get a severe case.

Although the mosquito that spreads dengue also spreads chikungunya and the Zika virus, Paz-Bailey said that the other two viruses aren’t spread as much because people are already immune to them. She also said that it’s very uncommon for a mosquito to carry two viruses at the same time.

The WHO warned in January that dengue is the fastest-spreading mosquito-borne disease in the world and could cause an epidemic. To fight dengue, there are vaccines and carefully bred mosquitoes that carry a bacteria called Wolbachia. However, once someone is infected with the virus, there are no specific ways to treat it.

It’s not clear how many countries have asked manufacturers for vaccines, but the Pan American Health Organization said that its immunization technical advisory group just met to talk about dengue vaccines and will release suggestions as soon as they’re done.

This year, the Americas broke the old record for the most dengue cases in a single area. Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Peru had the most cases reported around the world. After reporting an all-time high number of cases, Peru issued a state of emergency in some areas.

The Caribbean is also dealing with a rise in cases. The Caribbean Public Health Agency says that by early October, there were 15% more confirmed cases in the region than at the same time last year.

In August, the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique announced an epidemic that is still going on. Martinique, for example, has an average of 800 cases a week on an island with about 394,000 people.

In the meantime, an outbreak was reported in Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Barbados in October.

According to a statement from the Caribbean Public Health Agency, outbreaks of dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases “pose a significant threat to health, tourism, as well as social and economic development.” It is important not to underestimate the risks and effects that come with these diseases.

Poor countries have the most trouble with dengue because their dirty bathrooms and lack of air conditioning and screened windows let the bugs fly around easily, and their health systems aren’t strong enough to handle the growing number of cases.

Farrar, the chief scientist for the World Health Organization, said that dengue is hard to treat because people often wait too long to see a doctor and the virus can spread so quickly. He said it’s hard to take care of patients because staff have to make sure they get the right amount of juice, which takes a lot of time and close attention.

“Imagine that you have a thousand people just like that who need all that delicate medical care.” It could quickly be too much for a system, he said.

One person who lives in Jamaica and is 70 years old and retired knows firsthand how hard it is on medical services. He started to feel worse every month until he finally went to the doctor.

After testing positive, he took an hour-long cab ride from Ocho Rios to Kingston because the doctor told him to go to the hospital.

The first hospital he went to told him there were no beds open and turned him away. After that, Burton spent two nights in a wheelchair at the second hospital he went to until a bed became available.

He said, “I was really bad.” He also said that he had blood in his urine and had to stay in the hospital for four nights.

Dr. Georgiana Gordon-Strachan, who runs the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, said that the summer of 2023 on the island was ideal for the latest spread.

“One thing that makes dengue fever worse is heat,” she said.

She said it was most worrying that the second type of dengue, which is the worst of the four, is the one that is most common in Jamaica right now.

There are trucks driving all over Jamaica, Barbados, and other Caribbean islands spreading a product that has small amounts of poison to fight the virus.

Health officials also keep telling people to get rid of old tires, plastic containers, and other things that catch rainwater. They also say that people should sleep with nets over their beds and wear pants and long-sleeved shirts.

She said, “It’s really important that we talk about dengue more proactively because it’s becoming such an important public health threat.”

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