No specific treatment exists for a serious mosquito-borne disease that is sweeping into new parts of the globe. Nor are there any vaccines to prevent infection in the first place.
Dengue is caused by any one of four viruses transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. These mosquitoes were originally found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, but now exist on all continents except Antarctica. They have caused outbreaks of dengue in the southern United States, and been seen as far north as New York and Chicago.
While dengue exists in both rural and urban areas, city dwellers are most at risk. The mosquito disease-carriers reproduce in standing water, which is common wherever people store water at home for drinking and bathing purposes. The rapid growth of cities in tropical countries has led to overcrowding, allowing more dengue-carrying mosquitoes to live closer to more people.Because of poor knowledge about dengue transmission and lax regulations, construction sites in the booming cities offer ideal breeding grounds. Uncollected garbage also poses a danger, as discarded plastic packaging, tires, and other containers allow water to accumulate and remain stagnant for days. And if there’s no water for hatching, mosquito eggs can survive in dry conditions for more than year.
All these factors are at play in the major cities of Bangladesh. The capital, Dhaka, with a population of 17 million, has experienced repeated devastating outbreaks of the severe form of dengue in recent years. But poor public health infrastructure and a lack of resources mean this poor, rapidly growing city lacks even basic knowledge about how much dengue there is, what strains are circulating, and where and when the infected mosquitoes are to be found.
By building the capacity of local researchers and government institutions to understand and respond to dengue, and by strengthening international collaboration, the research will not only reduce suffering in the short term, but limit opportunities for new diseases to emerge.Canadians well understand the potential threat these diseases pose, having dealt with invasions by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and West Nile Virus in the recent past. The more Canada can do to assist developing countries control diseases such as dengue, the better for them and for us.
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