WHO warns of dengue pandemic risk

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that cases of dengue fever could reach close to record highs this year, attributable to a worrying cocktail of rising temperatures and rapid urbanisation.

Dengue rates are rising globally, with reported cases since 2000 up eight-fold to 4.2 million in 2022, WHO said.

The disease was recently found in Khartoum for the first time on record, according to a health ministry report in March, while Europe has reported a surge in cases and Peru has actually declared a state of emergency in several regions.

In January, the WHO warned that dengue is the world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease and represents a “pandemic threat”.

About half of the world’s population is now at risk, according to Dr Raman Velayudhan, a specialist at the WHO’s control of neglected tropical diseases department,

Reported cases to WHO hit an all-time high in 2019 with 5.2 million cases in 129 countries, said Dr Velayudhan. This year the world is on track for “4 million plus” cases, depending mostly on the Asian monsoon season.

Already, close to 3 million cases have been reported in the Americas, he said, adding there was concern about the southern spread to Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

WHO says reported cases of the disease, which causes fever and muscle pain, represent just a fraction of the total number of global infections since most cases are asymptomatic. It is fatal in less than 1% of people.

A warmer climate is thought to help the mosquitoes multiply faster and enable the virus to multiply within their bodies. Dr Velayudhan also cited the increased movement of goods and people and urbanisation and associated problems with sanitation as other factors behind the increase.