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390 Million, Not 100 Million, People Infected with Dengue Fever: Study

Update Date: Apr 08, 2013 11:42 AM EDT

A recent study has found that dengue fever, nicknamed "bone breaking fever" for the aches that it can cause, occurs three times as often as was previously thought. This is bad news, considering that there is no accepted treatment for the disease.

The World Health Organization had previously estimated that there were about 50 to 100 million people affected with the disease worldwide, which can cause symptoms like fever, shock and severe bodily pain. However, a recent study refutes that number. By performing a mathematical analysis, the study estimates that over three times as many people have been affected by the disease, which amounts to 390 million people, according to Reuters.

The disease is transmitted by mosquitoes. Most of the cases are likely asymptomatic or mild, while 96 million cases are thought to be severe. However, the high number of asymptomatic cases is of little help to public health workers or people with the disease. Science AAAS reports that there are four types of dengue fever. When a person is infected with the first kind, that establishes an immunity to that type of dengue fever for life. Unfortunately, if that person is bitten by a mosquito carrying a second type of the disease, that increases their risk of developing a more severe case of dengue fever.

Researchers believe that the rise in dengue fever is linked to two factors in particular: urbanization and climate change. Urbanization means that a mosquito carrying the illness is able to infect multiple people in succession. Climate change means that the Aedes aegypti mosquito is able to live in climates previously inhospitable to it.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the bulk of cases of the disease is in Asia; India represents half of those cases alone. The Americas account for 14 percent of dengue fever cases, while Africa accounts for 16 percent of cases; Africa's burden is of particular concern since the symptoms often resemble other, more endemic diseases to the continent, like malaria. The disease has also spread to the southern United States and Europe. Last year, Europe saw its first dengue outbreak in about 90 years; 2,000 people became infected with the disease in the Portuguese island of Madeira.

While most people recover from dengue fever on their own with medical assistance, complications from the illness can lead to death. Drug makers are hunting for a treatment or vaccine from the illness.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

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