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Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever Overview

Dengue fever is a disease caused by viruses that are transmitted to people by mosquitoes. Dengue fever usually causes fever (high, about 104 F-105 F), skin rash (see Figure 1), and pain (headaches and often severe muscle and joint pains). The disease has also been termed "breakbone" or "dandy fever" because the unusually severe muscle and joint pains can make people assume distorted body positions or exaggerated walking movements in an effort to reduce their pain.

Dengue fever is endemic in tropical and subtropical areas. Dengue fever is estimated by the WHO (World Health Organization) to cause about 50-100 million infections per year worldwide. The CDC considers dengue fever to cause the majority of acute febrile illnesses in travelers returning to the U.S. In 2009, dengue fever was noted to occur in Key West, Florida, in residents who did not travel outside the U.S. More cases were identified in 2010, which suggests that dengue fever may become endemic in Florida, and possibly south Texas, due to new infections also diagnosed in this area. The first clinical report of dengue fever was in 1789 by B. Rush, although the Chinese may have described the disease associated with "flying insects" as early as 420 AD. Africans described "ka dinga pepo" as cramp-like seizure caused by an evil spirit. The Spanish may have changed "dinga" to dengue since it means fastidious or careful in Spanish, which describes the gait of people trying to reduce the pain of walking.

Unfortunately, the disease incidence seems to be increasing in Thailand, India, Singapore, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Cape Verde with new outbreaks in 2009-10. Researchers suggest the surge in dengue fever may be due to several factors:

  • Increased urban crowding with more sites for mosquitoes to develop


  • International commerce that contains infected mosquitoes, thus introducing the disease to areas previously free of the disease


  • Local and world environmental changes that allow mosquitoes to survive the winter months


  • International travelers who carry the disease to areas where mosquitoes have not been previously infected

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