The words Dengue Fever were unknown to me until I read a news report that cases had surfaced in Key West, and Broward county, Florida. Curious, I searched a bit further and learned that as many as 100 million people are infected by Dengue Fever each year. We rarely hear about it in the United States because the mosquito born virus which causes the disease mostly occurs in the tropics and subtropics, in places like Indonesian, South and Central America, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, places far from home. There is no vaccine and no real treatment except monitoring of symptoms and vital signs. Yet, like many things that don’t knock loudly at my back door, I put the matter of Dengue Fever, of the potential suffering and death it wrought, out of mind.
So why does Dengue Fever surface for me now? I just finished reading Eaarth by Bill McKibben, an truly important, seriously frightening, yet somewhat hopeful book about the effects climate change has on our planet. McKibben quotes from an article in the Economist, 2007:
“Fueled by climate change, dengue fever, is on the rise again throughout the developing world, particularly in Latin America. Mexico identified 27,000 cases of dengue fever last year, more than four times the number than in 2001. . .“Dengue has come to stay in Latin America,” the Argentinian health minister said in 2009–after a year that saw a million cases across the region.”
McKibben goes on to say that warmer temperatures extend the geographic range of the virus carrying mosquito, that Science Daily reports global warming, “ also reduces the size of the larva and, ultimately, adult size.” McKibben explains that,
“Since smaller mosquitoes feed more frequently to develop their eggs, warmer temperatures would boost the incidence of double feeding and increase the chance of transmission. In addition, the time the virus must spend incubating inside the mosquito is shortened at higher temperatures.”
All living things are linked on Planet Earth. There is a vital internal balance that only the foolhardy would disturb. Raise the earth’s temperature but a few degrees. . . glaciers melt, evaporation increases, sea levels rise, wind patterns alter, warm air holds more moisture so storms grow more frequent, more intense, deserts expand and savannas retreat, and the lowly Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads northward carrying the dengue virus closer and closer to my back door.