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Dengue Virus: A Global Human Threat

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral infection and one of the top threats to global public health today with billions of people at risk of transmission worldwide. Dengue virus is transmitted to humans through the bites of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito.

There are four serotypes of the dengue virus: DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4. These serotypes are similar yet distinct from each another. The dengue viruses are members of the genus Flavivirus in the family Flaviviridae.

A person infected with dengue goes through an incubation period of 4-10 days after which they could experience symptoms which generally last for 2-7 days.

The World Health Organization classifies dengue into two categories: dengue and severe dengue. Probable symptoms of the former category include severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pains, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands and a characteristic skin rash.

Dengue haemorrhagic fever occurs when the disease worsens. Severe dengue has comparatively much more damaging effects on the infected person like bleeding, decrease in blood platelet count, blood plasma leakage and dengue shock syndrome.

Dengue is pervasive in tropical regions like Africa, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean, Asia, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific with Asia shouldering most of the global burden of the disease. Dengue transmissions peak during and after rainy seasons which makes areas that experience monsoon, like India, particularly vulnerable.

Since the world is more interconnected than ever before in this age of globalisation, dengue has increased its reach wildly in recent years. Today the disease is endemic in more than 100 countries, a cause for deep concern.

Cities are susceptible to the spread of dengue as there is a lack of infrastructure needed to support the rapidly rising urban populations. City dwellers lack access to housing, safe water and proper sanitation which leads to urban areas becoming the breeding ground for the infection.

It must be noted that the regions most affected by the disease are generally also economically poorer. Their meagre healthcare resources fail to mitigate the symptoms of the disease in thousands of patients that fall victim to the virus when it spreads. Furthermore, poor malnourished people have weakened immunity which makes them vulnerable to the disease.

Last year, dengue and covid-19 outbreaks together put India’s healthcare system under pressure. 1.64 lakh dengue cases ever reported in 2021 which while lesser than the year before is still a staggering number. Union Health Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya, has credited the Indian government for maintaining a case fatality rate of less than one percent.

According to the World Health Organization, our focus should lie in prevention. Water and sanitation management, waste management, improved drainage, keeping a clean environment, access to piped water and installation of mosquito screens in homes would all go a long way in reducing the possibility of dengue outbreaks. These results can be achieved through collaboration between respective local governments, public health and sanitation departments and communities.

A timely diagnosis can make all the difference. There are two classifications of dengue detection: virus isolation methods and serological methods. Under serological methods, testing for the virus-produced protein called NS1 using a rapid diagnostic test is the quickest and simplest method available.

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