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Dengue fever at epidemic levels in Puerto Rico

When champion surfer Andy Irons was found dead in a Dallas hotel room this week, family members said they suspected he had dengue fever — a virus transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical countries.

Irons had been in Puerto Rico to compete in a surfing contest, but bailed out early because he was feeling sick, friends said. He arranged a flight home to Hawaii, but got off at the stopover in Dallas because he was too ill to take the connecting flight. He checked into a hotel room to get some rest.

Although there have been reports of several prescription drugs found in his hotel room — leading to speculation that he may have died of an accidental overdose — it's worth noting that dengue fever is at epidemic levels in Puerto Rico. And the virus can be deadly.

This year, Puerto Rico has experienced an "extensive dengue outbreak," according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 12,000 cases have been reported on the island this year.

In addition, the Caribbean, Central America and parts of South America are experiencing a 20-year high in the number of dengue fever cases, which has led the CDC to issue a health advisory to travelers. (http://www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/medicine/arboviral/pdfs/2010/DengueHAN.pdf)

Many Americans aren't familiar with dengue fever because, even though it is typically found in subtropical and tropical areas, it rarely appears in the States. Most of the cases reported in the United States have been found in Hawaii and Texas, along its border with Mexico.

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