The deadly viral infection known as dengue fever may be gaining a foothold in states like Texas, Florida and Hawaii, according to researchers. The virus, generally associated with tropical areas, infects roughly 100 million people a year. The virus forces about 500,000 people to be hospitalized every year, many of them children, and kills approximately 25,000 people annually.
To put that into perspective, Malaria infects about 219 million people per year and causes about 660,000 deaths.
Business Insider notes dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes, is known to create huge shortages in the work force because the infection can last for months.
Per Slate’s Maryn McKenna:
At the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene last month, researchers from the University of Florida revealed that dengue has reappeared in Key West, Fla. The virus they found was not a one-time visitor imported by a tourist or a stray mosquito; it has been on the island long enough to become a genetically distinct, local strain.
The Florida researchers didn’t want to talk about their presentation because they hope to get it published soon in a medical journal. But it turns out other tropical-disease experts have been watching dengue’s return to the United States for a while and wondering what it will mean.
“It really is just a matter of time until dengue re-establishes itself in certain areas here,” says Amesh Adalja of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “The U.S. has been lucky that it has escaped so far.”
Adalja also told McKenna that dengue, also known as “breakbone fever,” may not “swamp the entire U.S., but the “entire South already harbors those mosquitoes, and that is bad enough.”
“Dengue shouldn’t have to swamp the entire country for us to make it a priority,” she added.
In 2001,122 people in Hawaii were reportedly infected with dengue. It was the first time that it had been reported there since 1944. “A separate outbreak in Brownsville, Texas, in 2005 infected 25, and 90 cases were reported in Key West between 2009 and 2010,” according to Business Insider.
Earlier this month, mosquito control officials in the Florida Keys asked the federal government to sign off on an experiment that would release hundreds of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the risk of dengue fever in Key West.
Featured image via AP