Dengue fever, also known as “breakbone fever,” used to be confined to a small part of the tropics. As a recent outbreak in Florida illustrates, it is no longer so confined.
In fact, dengue is now the most common and the fastest-growing mosquito-borne disease in the world, currently threatening a third of the world’s population.
In the worst cases, the infection can cause a potentially deadly form of the disease known as dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF). Epidemics of both dengue and DHF are now routine in many parts of Latin America only several generations after the mosquito-borne virus was first identified there.
Due to the combination of human travel, cargo transportation and perhaps the changing climate, the mosquito that carries the dengue virus (Aedes aegypti, which also carries yellow fever) has been spreading to nearly all tropical and semi-tropical regions worldwide. This skeeter tends to like to live in urban and semi-urban areas.
Because of the global surge in dengue, the U.S. military and some pharmaceutical companies have stepped up efforts to develop a vaccine that can protect against the infection. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has donated $60 million to these efforts as well.