Dengue Fever Could Be Next Public-Health Threat

Last spring the threat of swine flu sparked a panic: the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, universities and drug companies kicked into overdrive to develop new vaccines, and governments raced to stop the virus's spread. Meanwhile, another global public-health threat proliferated virtually ignored: dengue fever, a potentially lethal mosquito-borne disease traditionally found mostly in Central America and Southeast Asia.

The numbers on dengue's expansion are staggering. While the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported that H1N1 had killed 11,749 people as of December 2009, the WHO reports that "explosive outbreaks" of dengue hospitalized half a million people last year. Forty years ago, the disease struck only nine countries; it is now endemic in more than 100. And it's not just a disease of the poor South. Dengue has spread into a large swath of the U.S. (39 states) Although the disease is not widespread in the U.S., one species of mosquito that can carry the dengue parasite and pass it along to humans has been identified in 36 states. Dengue has climbed to the second most common illness that European travelers bring home. If global warming continues and the mosquito's habitat spreads, more than half the world's population will be at risk, according to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute. While London, New York, and Beijing pour millions into warding off swine flu, dengue's scourge—and spread—continues. It may not threaten to shut down the global economy, but it's a growing killer that deserves some attention of its own.

(Updated with corrections at 4:22 p.m. on Jan. 13. This piece was mistakenly credited to Rana Foroohar. It was, in fact, written by Andrew Bast for the international edition of NEWSWEEK.)