(HealthDay News) — The case of a Texas woman who died after becoming infected in New Mexico with the mosquito-borne dengue virus highlights a need for U.S. doctors to recognize the disease early, experts say. This is the third locally acquired dengue-related death in the United States, according to a report published in the Jan. 24 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Researchers led by CDC epidemiologist Tyler Sharp described what happened to a 63-year-old Texas woman who became ill in August 2012 after taking a one-month vacation to New Mexico. After returning home, the woman was initially – and erroneously – diagnosed with West Nile virus. On Sept. 22, 2012, the woman went to an emergency room because she had persistent fatigue, fever, and chills. She was admitted to the hospital and died Oct. 3 from hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a rare complication of dengue.
The researchers say that this case suggests there may be more unrecognized cases of dengue in the United States. For decades, dengue fever had been thought of as an illness that people contracted outside the United States. But that all changed in 2009 and 2010, when a cluster of cases were reported in southern Florida. Speaking to HealthDay in 2011, as the Florida outbreak was subsiding, Hal Margolis, M.D., chief of the CDC’s dengue branch, said most dengue that appears in the United States is still brought back by people who have traveled to areas in the world where the disease is endemic.
“There are thousands of people who come back with dengue,” Margolis told HealthDay. “That’s really the biggest problem.” The Florida outbreak was unusual in that it lasted for two seasons. “How it got introduced, we don’t know,” he said.