Dengue illness, the most common mosquito-borne viral disease in the world, has expanded from Southeast Asia to The Americas. Brazil is one South American nation that has lived with dengue fever since the 80's.  According to a new study from Brandeis University researchers published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the economic burden of dengue is approximately $2.1 billion per year. Surpassing the loss from other viral illnesses like human papilloma virus (HPV) the most common sexually transmitted infection, and rota virus, the primary cause of fatal diarrhea among children worldwide.

Donald S. Shepard, professor at the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management is the lead on this study and says that 60%  of the economic strain is caused by  indirect costs of illness.  "With health comes wealth" is a popular idiom in economics;  someone who is sick is least likely to work or attend school,  impeding on individual wealth growth and higher education opportunities. Productivity loss by one person affects households, employers and government expenditures. Urban planning also plays a great role in the economic burden of dengue.  Several of the communities affected tend to have unkempt roads and dated hospital equipment which directly influences the cost of  delivery of ambulatory and hospital services. From these examples, it is clear that sickness impacts much more than the infected individual.

Dengue illness causes high fever, joint pain, and severe headache and has the power to put a patient into shock and lead to death. The number of annual dengue infections is now estimated between 50-100 million, with 24,000 deaths primarily among children.  Tropical diseases are transient and in 2009, Florida experienced its first dengue outbreak.  Thus the ultimate goal with this research and field work is to map out a method for controlling the disease to halt expansion.  According to Dr. Shepard,  one moderately effective approach that is currently in practice, includes placing larvacide in water-storage containers. This  stops the breeding of the mosquitoes that spread the virus. Currently in development are methods for sterilizing mosquitoes that carry the disease so future mosquito populations will be smaller.

Yara Halasa works with Dr. Shepard as a research associate and has been involved with the dengue project for three years where her passion for understanding the impact of disease began in her native country of Jordan.

Understanding the economic impact of a disease is an important tool to assist policy makers in understanding the social as well as the medical impact. This is a great methodology that can be used for any disease.

Dengue is a preventable, neglected tropical disease (NTD) and is said to be largely neglected because those living in temperate weather are not impacted. However, this study seeks to prompt policy makers to invest in control and elimination programs by demonstrating the vast impact of dengue.

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