October 8, 2015 |Dengue Epidemics Linked to El Niño Season

Epidemics of dengue across Southeast Asia are linked to high temperatures brought by the El Niño weather phenomenon are the findings of an international research team led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), are timely as the most intense El Niño in nearly two decades is emerging in the Pacific, raising the concern that a major increase in cases of dengue will occur throughout Southeast Asian countries early next year.

Dengue surveillance data are routinely collected by public health agencies around the world, but due to a variety of barriers, these data cannot always be used for scientific analysis. The University of Pittsburgh collaborated with colleagues at over 18 institutions across 8 countries in Southeast Asia to integrate dengue surveillance data into the Project Tycho® database and to detect patterns of disease transmission at a regional level.

"Large dengue epidemics occur unexpectedly, which can overburden the health care systems," said lead author William G. van Panhuis, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. "Our analysis shows that elevated temperatures can create the ideal circumstance for large-scale dengue epidemics to spread across a wide region. The ability to predict and prepare for these epidemics should lead to more effective disease surveillance and control efforts."

"This study will contribute toward a better understanding of the cyclical nature of dengue," said co-author Lam Sai Kit, PhD, professor at the University of Malaysia. These findings will help them to prepare for a worst-case scenario and immediate measures can be taken to counter its effect in the next few months.

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The Project Tycho® database is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health

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