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Sexually transmitted dengue fever: A world first?

Dengue fever is already endemic throughout India’s states and union territories. Recent announcements, however, may show the disease to be even more of a threat than previously anticipated.

Dengue outbreak in Kerala: 18199389 - anopheles mosquito main cause of maleria and dengue in india. Copyright: signout / 123RF Stock Photo
The anopheles mosquito — primary vector of dengue fever.

Spanish health authorities have announced the detection of a case in which a 41-year-old man from Madrid has contracted dengue after having sex with his male partner who picked up the virus from a mosquito bite during a trip to Cuba.

The concept of dengue fever being spread through sexual contact is a world first. The case initially puzzled doctors, as the individual had not travelled to a region in which dengue fever is present. “His partner presented the same symptoms as him but lighter around ten days earlier, and he had previously visited Cuba and the Dominican Republic,” said Susana Jimenez of the Madrid region’s public health department.

“An analysis of their sperm was carried out and it revealed that not only did they have dengue but that it was exactly the same virus which circulates in Cuba.”

Such an instance has been documented as potentially occurring before, though the case in Spain is the first to confirm sexual transmission. A case earlier this year was noted in South Korea in which a suspected case of female-to-male sexual transmission of the disease had potentially taken place.

Scientists have already noted that they expect dengue to become prevalent across much of the globe within the next sixty years. This, however, has been linked to the fact that breeding populations of Aedes Aegypti mosquito — the primary vector of the disease — are being found across much of the globe where they have never previously been noted. This has been attributed largely to the effects of climate change.

Sexual transmission is unlikely to become a common means of transmission. If this were the case, it would likely be documented more frequently in areas of frequent transmission. However, it may be the case that sexual transmission is indeed occurring in countries such as India, and these cases are simply being attributed to mosquito bites.

The potential for a new means of transmission of a disease already endemic across much of the world is an alarming prospect, warranting further investigation to avoid such transmission potentially becoming commonplace.


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