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Is Dengue Fever on the Rise in the U.S.?

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Dec. 23, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Dengue fever, a viral illness most often seen in the tropics of Asia and Africa, is becoming a bigger threat here on U.S. soil. Florida researchers report in the Dec. 24 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that incidence of dengue is higher than previously reported in their state. Experts call for improved prevention, surveillance, and reporting to prevent the spread of the virus to other parts of Florida and to other states.

But some states seem to be having their own problems with dengue already. In an unrelated report, the Texas state department of health has announced that a girl who died earlier this month is the first casualty of a dengue outbreak there that has infected 51 people this year -- the biggest outbreak there this decade. It's thought the girl picked up the disease during a trip to Mexico.

Dengue fever -- mainly transmitted via the Aedes aegypti mosquito -- is commonly referred to as "break-bone fever" due to pain so intense that bones are often felt to be breaking. In addition to such pain, infection with any of dengue's four types can lead to acute illness with joint pain, headache, fever, rash, and hemorrhage. After infection with one type, the antibodies that are produced usually protect the patient from future infections related to that particular serotype. However, infection with a different type puts the patient at risk for a more severe form of the illness, marked by internal bleeding, called dengue hemorrhagic fever. Patients usually recover from dengue within a few days, though related fatigue can last as long as a month or two.

"In the last 10 years, a mean of 1.3 cases per year were reported in the state [of Florida]," says lead author Julia Gill, PhD, MPH. "The number of cases reported to the state was so low that I couldn't believe that that was the true number of cases. ... I thought [by conducting this surveillance study] we'd find a lot more cases." Gill is with the Florida Department of Health in St. Petersburg.

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