Results from 75,000 geo-referenced households in Vietnam during two dengue epidemics reveal that human population densities typical of villages are most prone to dengue outbreaks; rural areas may contribute as much to dissemination of dengue fever as do cities.
Aedes aegypti, the major vector of dengue viruses, often breeds in water storage containers used by households without tap water supply, and occurs in high numbers even in dense urban areas. We analysed the interaction between human population density and lack of tap water as a cause of dengue fever outbreaks with the aim of identifying geographic areas at highest risk.
Methods and Findings
We conducted an individual-level cohort study in a population of 75,000 geo-referenced households in Vietnam over the course of two epidemics, on the basis of dengue hospital admissions (n = 3,013). We applied space-time scan statistics and mathematical models to confirm the findings. We identified a surprisingly narrow range of critical human population densities between around 3,000 to 7,000 people/km2 prone to dengue outbreaks. In the study area, this population density was typical of villages and some peri-urban areas. Scan statistics showed that areas with a high population density or adequate water supply did not experience severe outbreaks. The risk of dengue was higher in rural than in urban areas, largely explained by lack of piped water supply, and in human population densities more often falling within the critical range. Mathematical modeling suggests that simple assumptions regarding area-level vector/host ratios may explain the occurrence of outbreaks.
Rural areas may contribute at least as much to the dissemination of dengue fever as cities. Improving water supply and vector control in areas with a human population density critical for dengue transmission could increase the efficiency of control efforts.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Dengue fever is a viral infection common in tropical and subtropical regions that is characterized by sudden high fever, severe headache, muscle and joint pains, and a rash. The virus is transmitted by the bite of female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Although dengue is not usually fatal, infection rates can be as high as 90% among those who have not been previously exposed to the virus, and in a small proportion of cases the disease can develop into dengue hemorrhagic fever, which is life threatening. It is estimated that 500,000 people are hospitalized every year with dengue hemorrhagic fever. Incidence of dengue fever is increasing, and two-fifths of the world's population, approximately 2.5 billion people, are now at risk from the disease in over 100 endemic countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
There is no specific treatment for dengue fever, other than managing symptoms and ensuring hydration, and no vaccine available. The best way to counter the spread of dengue fever is to target the mosquito vector, with one of the more effective methods being the disruption of mosquito habitats, in particular eliminating standing water such as in unused tires, open water storage containers, or even flower vases, where mosquitoes lay their eggs and larvae develop. Because the geographic range of the mosquitoes that transmit dengue has increased, there has been a rapid rise in global dengue epidemics over the last 30 years with Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific being most severely affected. In this study researchers aimed to define areas in Vietnam that were most at risk of dengue fever by looking at population density and water supply.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers studied a population in Kanh-Hoa Province in south-central Vietnam (∼350,000 people) that was affected by two dengue epidemics between January 2005 and June 2008. They included all patients admitted to two public hospitals that could be linked to census data from 2006 (3,013 patients). These data enabled the researchers to calculate both the population density and the proportion of households with access to tap water within 100 meters of each patient's household.
The researchers found that low population densities, typical of rural villages (around 110 people residing within a 100-meter radius), had the highest rate of dengue fever. They also found that in those neighborhoods where less than 20% of households had tap water there was a peak in dengue fever rates at a population density of 190 people residing within 100 meters. On an individual household level they found that absence of tap water was associated with an increased risk of dengue fever.
In the absence of data on larvae and mosquito abundance the researchers used a mathematical model to show that when mosquito numbers were limited the highest risk of dengue occurred at very low population densities. However, if mosquito numbers were limited only at high human population densities, dengue fever risk peaked at low-to-moderate human population densities. The model suggests that the provision of tap water changes the risk of dengue because mosquito numbers are limited.
What Do These Findings Mean?
People living in low-to-moderate population densities, such as rural villages, without access to tap water have the highest risk of contracting dengue fever. The use of water storage vessels provides breeding sites for mosquitoes and leads to a high mosquito-to-human ratio and an increased individual dengue risk. In more populated urban areas with tap water, mosquito breeding sites are limited so the relative risk of dengue for an individual is less because the mosquito-to-human ratio is smaller. Populated areas still contribute substantially to dengue epidemics, however, because the absolute number of people who can contract dengue is high.
The authors point out some limitations in their study, such as only looking at the most severe cases of dengue in patients who were admitted to hospital and assuming that all taps were functional.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001082.
WHO provides information on dengue fever including a dengue fact sheet
The CDC provides information on the Aedes aegypti mosquito and a global health map that reports areas at risk of dengue