After years of suppression during the coronavirus pandemic, dengue is now surging across the planet, with hospitals in the worst-affected countries – from Peru to Bangladesh – overwhelmed by sick patients in recent months.
But as the virus spreads, with half the world’s population believed to be at risk of catching dengue, experts are becoming increasingly concerned about the danger it poses to pregnant women.
Emerging research has found the disease can have fatal consequences or lifelong complications for both mothers and their unborn babies.
A recent paper from the University of Surrey warned that even a mild infection makes a pregnant woman 77 percent more likely to give birth before 32 weeks, and more than doubles the risk of a child being born at an extremely low weight – potentially affecting brain development, with lifelong consequences.
The paper has exacerbated calls for dengue to be officially recognised alongside diseases like Zika, HIV, chicken pox as a threat during pregnancy. It has also raised questions around whether expectant mothers who live in regions not affected by the virus should travel to dengue hotspots.
Some, including the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, have warned pregnant women to think twice about visiting areas with high infection rates – especially as there are no specific treatments. Meanwhile the vaccines currently available are not recommended for pregnant women as they use a weakened strain of the live virus.