El Niño May Cause Dengue Fever Outbreaks as Climate Pattern Continues

First Posted: Feb 09, 2016 10:20 AM EST

El Niño may be causing the spread of the dengue virus. Scientists have found that this climate phenomenon has a significant role when it comes to the outbreak of haemorrhagic fevers.

The number of cases of dengue fever throughout the world is rising rapidly, propelling it to the status of a "re-emerging disease." Many countries in the intertropical zone see the number of cases of fever peak during the rainy season each year. But researchers wanted to see when and why these annual peaks turned into real outbreaks in 2010 and 2013 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In this latest study, the researchers reviewed health reports from eight South-East Asian countries, spanning a period of 18 years. The scientists developed models for dengue fever transmission across the entire region, and highlighted the correlation between the most serious epidemic waves and the abnormally high atmospheric temperatures associated with intense El Niño events.

Of particular note was a period of high incidence throughout South-East Asia from 1997 to 1998. This coincided with the most intense El Niño event of the 20th century.

The findings suggest that El Niño events may help increase the spread of haemorrhagic fevers. More specifically, the current El Niño event that's taking place could mean an uptick in the number of cases of dengue fever. This is particularly important to note when it comes to preventing the fever's spread across country borders and throughout large populations.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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