The Heat Is Online

WHO warns of Dengue Fever Pandemic

WHO issues dengue fever warning, July 31, 2002

GENEVA - The World Health Organisation said this week that 2002 was shaping up to be a bad year for dengue fever and urged governments and individuals to protect against the mosquitoes which spread the infection.

"This year is looking a bit like 1998 when we had a pandemic. It's a very worrying picture," said Mike Nathan of WHO's department of communicable diseases, adding a record 1.2 million cases were reported in 1998.

Dengue fever, a mosquito-born infection found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, has flu-like symptoms such as fever, headaches and pain in the joints, but it can develop into dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) which causes haemorrhaging, liver enlargement, circulatory failure and, in some cases, death.

Jose Esparza, coordinator of WHO's viral vaccines team, said the search for a vaccine was still going on but was a long-term project and no "magic bullet" to replace prevention efforts.

The vaccine must fight against all four strains of dengue fever. Once an individual is infected, he is only immune to that strain and has a greater likelihood of suffering more severely from a second infection.

The surge this year is due chiefly to the nature of the disease itself and is predominant in areas where household water storage and inadequate solid waste disposal services prevail.

"During the 1998 pandemic, there was a lot of transmission so many people developed an immunity. Typically after a big outbreak you get a quiet year, then each year it begins to build up again until you have an epidemic. That seems to be where we are now," Nathan told a news conference.

In the first quarter, Brazil alone reported 84 deaths to the WHO from around 550,000 cases of dengue fever, 200,000 of those the more serious DHF. Although reporting is sketchy, the WHO estimates there are around 50 million cases of the infection each year and 2.5 billion of the world's population is at risk.

Nathan called on governments to implement measures to cut mosquito populations and urged people to take simple precautions such as unblocking gutters and discarding packaging properly to prevent stagnant water, a prime breeding area for mosquitoes.