Experts concerned about Western Hemisphere dengue outbreaks

Public health experts are troubled by new outbreaks of dengue fever in the Western Hemisphere that have the possibility of becoming a global health problem more difficult to control than malaria.

Dengue is a tropical disease that was once confined mostly to Asia and Africa. The viral infection is spread by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The disease can cause headaches, high fevers, severe muscle and joint pain, fatigue and a lack of appetite, VOA reports.

"Dengue had been eliminated in this hemisphere for quite a while but unfortunately it got reintroduced and has been generally growing since then," Donald Shepherd, a health economist and a professor at Brandeis University, said, according to VOA.

Shepherd and his colleagues have studied the economic burden of dengue on the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

"The economic cost of dengue averages $40 million per year," Shepherd said, according to VOA. "For the moderate size that Puerto Rico is it's a substantial amount of money."

There are no drugs to treat the disease and there are no vaccines to prevent infection. To recover from dengue, good medical care is required, raising the cost to treat the disease. Experts say that due to the high cost, it is important that control efforts, prevention and disease surveillance are strengthened until a vaccine or drug is available to fight the potentially deadly disease.