Dengue getting worse, but progress being made on other tropical diseases, reports WHO


Dengue fever, transmitted by mosquitoes, is estimated to affect around 50 million people around the world, says the WHO.


Justin Sullivan

The World Health Organization trumpeted its recent success in fighting 17 neglected tropical diseases in a new report —but warned that dengue fever has reached "pandemic" levels, infecting an estimate 50 million around the world.

The January 2013 reports states that the WHO has achieved success in using preventative medicine to fight against four of the targeted diseases (lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiases), managing to treat 711 million in 2010 alone.

Read more from GlobalPost: Opinion: we need a dengue vaccine

The WHO is hoping to get treatment for schistosomiasis, a dangerous parasitic disease, to a whopping 253 million people in the next five years, and the long-hoped for eradication of the deeply unpleasant guinea worm is in sight.

The international health organization also reports progress against almost-always fatal (but easily preventable) rabies and Buruli ulcers, a painful skin condition.

However, the news wasn't all rosy: the WHO reports that dengue fever, a intensely painful virus spread by mosquitoes, appears to be getting worse — and 2.5 billion people are now thought to be at risk of contracting it.

The organization dubbed Dengue "the fastest spreading vector-borne viral disease, with an epidemic potential in the world, registering a 30-fold increase in disease incidence over the past 50 years."

Read more from GlobalPost: Dengue fever: a deadly, neglected tropical disease

Although dengue has only proved an international problem since the 1950s, according to the CDC, it's grown by leaps and bounds since and is now found in 125 countries — and science hasn't yet produced an effective vaccine, although researchers are scrambling to figure out the puzzle.

The WHO calls the global pattern of dengue "alarming," and reports a steady rise in cases from 1955 to 2010, as the disease spreads beyond its natural habitat in Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Dengue fever has a mortality rate of about 2.5 percent, but the painful symptoms cause thousands of hospitalizations a year and the majority of those seriously hurt by the disease are children.

What to do about Dengue?

There's no easy answers until an effective vaccine is developed, but the WHO suggests that intensified vector control — which translates into removing the mosquitoes that spread Dengue — will be a major part of its prevention strategy.

If you live in a Dengue-prone area, the CDC has published some tips for removing mosquitoes from your home. The best way to stop mosquitoes in their tracks? Eliminate the still, standing water they need to breed.