By Sofia Redford
While you were sleeping, you may have been protected by a bed net. While you were sleeping, the screens on your windows might have been closed, and maybe even a fan was blowing air across your body. While you were sleeping, any and all of these might have been protecting you from night-biting mosquitoes. But while you were sleeping, so were the day biting Aedes mosquitoes that transmit dengue fever (dengue). Now you’re awake, out from under the net, out of the house and off to work. Maybe, like more than half of the world’s population, you live in an urban or peri-urban environment. Maybe, like more than half of the world’s population, you are at risk of getting dengue.
3.6 billion people, or 55% of the world’s population, are at risk of contracting dengue, a flu-like illness characterized by a high fever and rash. Though dengue rarely kills people, the traditional name of “Break Bone Fever” gives you some idea of how painful and debilitating the disease can be. In its severe forms,Dengue Hemorraghic Fever (DHF) and Dengue Shock Syndrome (DSS), the trademark fever can go as high as 106F, your circulatory system can fail, and death can occur within 12 to 24 hours . There is no antibiotic to prevent dengue and no specific treatment to cure it – you just have to endure.
But there is hope for a vaccine, which is commonly agreed on as the best way to combat the disease. Due to the fact that the greatest burden of dengue is in developing nations, that the disease can be caused by four separate variations, or serotypes, and that the overall number of deaths due to dengue is low, vaccine development has languished. But through a series of partnerships a number of different vaccine candidates are now entering clinical trials, and the first might be ready for license as soon as 2015.
The time to build the case for a dengue vaccine is now. Dengue is currently endemic in over 120 countries, and is continuing to spread due to international travel, urban growth, climate change and the failure of prevention measures such as spraying. The number and severity of outbreaks is increasing; the number of countries experiencing DHF outbreaks has increased four-fold in the past 30 years and the first locally acquired cases were seen in the US last year. Historically, it takes 20 years for new vaccines to reach the most remote and disenfranchised populations – precisely the groups that most need protection from dengue. Let’s not wait; let’s lay the groundwork now.