Dengue outbreaks on the rise in Asia-Pacific

World Health Officials announced last week that outbreaks of dengue fever have risen in the Asia Pacific region in the past year, killing three times more victims in 2008 than in recent years.

A total of 3,255 people died of the disease last year in the organization's Southeast Asia countries, compared to 1,202 in 2003, WHO officials said.

“Dengue has emerged as a serious public health problem in the countries of the South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions of WHO in the last two to three decades,” Dengue specialist Prasittisuk Chusak told a 10-day workshop of Asian dengue specialists in Singapore on Tuesday in a speech reported by Reuters.

Chusak said in the speech that the frequency of outbreaks was increasing, possibly because the epidemiology of the disease has evolved in the past 20 years. He also noted a lack of coordinated efforts, inadequate sources and a lack of political commitment as obstacles blocking the prevention of the disease.

The WHO has developed an Asia-Pacific Dengue Strategic Plan for the prevention and control of dengue in Asia-Pacific in response to the increasing threat from the disease, Chusak said.

Researchers in Thailand and the U.K. recently published an article in Science that reports that they are hopeful that a vaccine for the disease is clsoer. The authors of the Science paper say vaccines that steer clear of a key viral protein involved in the immune response could be the most effective.