New version of dengue prompts concern among scientists

Scientists are expressing concern about a dengue virus that continues to flourish in Southeast Asia and West Africa, cycling between non-human primates and the mosquitoes that feed on them, according to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

This form of dengue has received little attention because it does not attack humans, but more and more humans are entering the areas that had been the reserve of monkeys and other non-human primates, the university said.

Nikos Vasilakis, a professor at the university and the lead author of an academic paper about the danger, said “In the last 10 years we’ve seen a number of outbreaks of disease with real public health impact caused by what we call zoonotic viruses, viruses that start out in wild animals but can also be transmitted to humans. . . .”

Dengue virus may also be capable of movement from the
widespread urban cycles into primates and forest mosquitoes of Latin America, which would establish a new reservoir for human infections in the New World, the university said in describing the professor’s work.

In the paper, Vasilakis and his collaborators identified two factors that make a dengue re-emergence a “clear and present danger”: rapid human population growth near and in tropical forests, and the fact that little or no genetic change would be needed for forest dengue to adapt to human hosts and urban mosquitoes, said the university.

The paper urges additional study of the forest dengue.

Dengue sickens thousands in Costa Rica each year, mainly on the coasts. The disease can be fatal. Worldwide as many as 100 million people are infected yearly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dengue in humans is caused by any one of four related viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, and the forest virus would seem to be a fifth.

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