Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is an infectious disease carried by mosquitoes and caused by any of four related dengue viruses. This disease used to be called "break-bone" fever because it sometimes causes severe joint and muscle pain that feels like bones are breaking. Health experts have known about dengue fever for more than 200 years. 

Why is the study of Dengue Fever a priority for NIAID?: 

Worldwide, about 50 million cases of dengue infection occur each year, with 22,000 deaths, mostly in children. This includes 100 to 200 cases in the United States, mostly in people who have recently traveled abroad. Many more cases likely go unreported because some healthcare providers do not recognize the disease. In the Western hemisphere, the estimated economic burden of dengue is about $2.1 billion per year.

How is NIAID addressing this critical topic?: 

Recognizing the threat to public health posed by dengue, NIAID is funding nearly 60 dengue research projects, including studies on dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, the most severe forms of the disease. NIAID research priorities include effective community-based prevention programs, improved laboratory-based international surveillance, rapid diagnostic tests and therapies, and development of and clinical trials for dengue vaccines.

To learn about risk factors for dengue fever and current prevention and treatment strategies visit the MedlinePlus dengue site.

Photo of an aedes Aegypti Mosquito

Aegypti mosquito


Biology & Transmission

Dengue has emerged as a global health threat, while scientists still know little about how the virus infects cells and causes the disease. To answer these questions, NIAID supports a wide-range of basic research activities aimed at better understanding the biology of the dengue virus, the progression of disease in infected people, and the interactions between the virus and the immune system. New research findings are shedding light on the mechanisms of dengue infection, such as how the virus enters the cells and how the human immune system responds to dengue infection. Other NIAID projects are identifying the human and viral factors that determine and contribute to the severity and transmissibility of this disease.


NIAID researchers are actively engaged in the search for an effective vaccine against dengue fever. The vaccine approach that is currently been evaluated at NIAID for efficacy against dengue animal models and human trials is a weakened recombinant version (live-attenuated) of the dengue virus. Other NIAID-funded investigators are working to develop dengue vaccines using different live-attenuated dengue viruses, recombinant proteins, viral vectors, and DNA.


NIAID-supported scientists are working to understand the pathology of dengue disease and to develop cost-effective, sensitive, and specific diagnostic tests for use in dengue-endemic countries. The goal of these tests is to provide early detection of the disease, distinguish between the different viral dengue, and predict which people are at highest risk of developing the more severe forms of the disease, dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome. Quick and effective diagnosis of dengue is critical to effectively control outbreaks, treat the disease, and reduce mortality. In one project supported by NIAID, researchers are developing an automated, portable, point-of-care machine for rapid dengue diagnosis 


NIAID-supported investigators are pursuing several approaches to treat dengue infection. Some scientists are working to identify cellular and viral proteins to use as targets for drug intervention. In other studies, researchers are generating and evaluating neutralizing monoclonal antibodies and small molecule drugs in animal models. Results from these animal trials may result in new treatment options for people with dengue. In one NIAID-funded contract, researchers evaluated about 7,500 antiviral compounds in vitro to test their efficacy against dengue. So far, 49 have been identified for further evaluation.

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