CDC: Dengue Spikes in Puerto Rico


Research!America’s recent event in Houston made the point that global health concerns are also American concerns, and neglected tropical diseases don’t merely reside in the tropics. They’re in Texas too.

More evidence came to light yesterday through a startling report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that, in recent weeks, dengue cases in Puerto Rico are trending well above the threshold to be considered an epidemic. In the past two weeks alone, 228 suspected cases were reported, bringing the 2012 total to 2,101. Twenty-one percent, or 446, were confirmed as dengue by lab analysis and – thankfully – only eight have been classified as the more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever. Also, thankfully, no one has died.

According to the Associated Press, Puerto Rico’s health secretary, Lorenzo Gonzalez, MD, said that the rate of reports may be increasing because doctors are better able to identify symptoms.

But late June and early July are the low point of the year for dengue cases reported, according to a chart in the CDC’s Dengue Surveillance Weekly Report. But for the rest of the summer, they’ll begin climbing until reaching the peak in October.

If Puerto Rico still seems too disconnected and remote, consider this: Puerto Rico has three airports with direct service to the U.S. Those three airports combine to send at least 83 flights to the U.S. mainland each day. Those flights go to Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte, NC; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Hartford, CT; Houston; Jacksonville, FL; Miami; New York; Orlando; Philadelphia; Tampa; Washington, DC; and West Palm Beach, FL. Many of those aircraft continue on to western destinations too, including Los Angeles.

(Depending on the day, it could be more than 83; we crafted our numbers from the timetables of seven different airlines, none of which are standardized. But we tried our best to count only those flights coming to the mainland at least six times a week.)

Even in the low season, that’s a lot of chances to spread dengue to a place that isn’t expecting to see it.

Global health R&D protects the health of Americans, and that’s why it’s important.

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Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco