Dengue Threatens Half Of The World's Population

"Half of the world's population is now at risk of dengue," said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization, on Thursday.

In fact, dengue has reached its all-time high in Latin America, with 2.7 million cases, including 1206 fatalities until the end of October 2019, according to the latest epidemiological update of the Pan American Health Organization.

The frequency of dengue outbreaks has grown dramatically throughout the world in recent decades and is currently the fastest spread viral disease spread on the planet.


We desperately need new strategies.

According to data collected by the World Health Organization, it is known that dengue, in the 1970s, existed only in nine countries; It is now endemic in 128 countries and affects up to 96 million people each year.

“Despite our best efforts, current measures to control it are falling short. We desperately need new strategies, ”Swaminathan explained.

Among these strategies is that of a technique that sterilizes dengue virus transmitting mosquitoes using radiation.

The sterilization technique was first developed by the United States Department of Agriculture and has been used successfully to control insect pests that attack crops, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly, and livestock, such as the fly of the borer worm. It is currently used globally in the agricultural sector on six continents.

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The novelty is that now it will be used against the mosquito of the Aedes species, which transmits not only dengue, but also Zika and chikungunya.

"This initiative is promising and exciting," said the expert of the World Health Organization announcing that together with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Special Program for Research and training in tropical diseases, a guide has been developed for countries that want to try the technique.

The technique reduces mosquito populations and with them the chances of bites in humans.

In recent decades, the incidence of dengue has increased exponentially due to environmental changes, unregulated urbanization, transportation and travel, and the lack of tools to control mosquitoes that act as vectors of the virus.

Dengue in Latin America and the rest of the world

WHO / J. Rivaca

A WHO laboratory in Tonga. Photo: WHO / J. Rivaca

According to the latest epidemiological update, Brazil registered the largest number of cases, with more than two million, followed, a long distance by Mexico, with 213,822; Nicaragua, with 157,573; Colombia, with 106,066; and Honduras, with 96,379.

In addition to Latin America, dengue outbreaks are currently occurring in several countries, especially in the Indian subcontinent. Bangladesh faces the worst outbreak of dengue since its first epidemic recorded in 2000.

The nation of South Asia has seen the number of cases increase to more than 92,000 since January 2019, and daily hospital admissions reach a maximum of more than 1500 new dengue patients in recent weeks.

Countries severely affected by dengue and Zika have shown a real interest in testing this technology.

"The increase in outbreaks this year is a wake-up call for governments, public policy makers and researchers on the need to strengthen surveillance and control programs, as well as to intensify prevention strategies for this phenomenal spread. Dengue and other vector-borne viruses, "said Raman Velayudhan, coordinator of the vector management program at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

Dengue virus causes a flu-like illness, which can become life-threatening. There is no specific treatment, but early detection and access to adequate medical care can prevent serious cases from becoming fatal.

More than 700,000 deaths annually

Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever represent approximately 17% of all infectious diseases worldwide, charging more than 700,000 lives each year and inflicting suffering on many more. The Zika outbreak in 2015 in Brazil was related to an increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly.

The guide on the use of the technique to control diseases in humans recommends adopting a staged strategy that allows time to test the effectiveness of sterilized insects.

Epidemiological indicators monitor the impact of the method on disease transmission. It also provides recommendations on the mass production of sterile mosquitoes, the commitment of the Government and the community, measuring the impact of the technique and evaluating profitability.

"Countries severely affected by dengue and Zika have shown a real interest in testing this technology, as it can help suppress mosquitoes that are developing resistance to insecticides, which are also negatively affecting the environment," he said. Florence Fouque, scientist of the Special Program for research and training in tropical diseases.

"The use of the insect sterilization technique in the agricultural sector over the past 60 years has proven to be a safe and effective method," said Jérémy Bouyer, medical entomologist at the Joint Division of FAO and the IAEA.