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Epidemiological risk factors associated with high global frequency of inapparent dengue virus infections.

Abstract

Dengue is a major international public health concern, and the number of outbreaks has escalated greatly. Human migration and international trade and travel are constantly introducing new vectors and pathogens into novel geographic areas. Of particular interest is the extent to which dengue virus (DENV) infections are subclinical or inapparent. Not only may such infections contribute to the global spread of DENV by human migration, but also seroprevalence rates in naïve populations may be initially high despite minimal numbers of detectable clinical cases. As the probability of severe disease is increased in secondary infections, populations may thus be primed, with serious public health consequences following introduction of a new serotype. In addition, pre-existing immunity from inapparent infections may affect vaccine uptake, and the ratio of clinically apparent to inapparent infection could affect the interpretation of vaccine trials. We performed a literature search for inapparent DENV infections and provide an analytical review of their frequency and associated risk factors. Inapparent rates were highly variable, but "inapparent" was the major outcome of infection in all prospective studies. Differences in the epidemiological context and type of surveillance account for much of the variability in inapparent infection rates. However, one particular epidemiological pattern was shared by four longitudinal cohort studies: the rate of inapparent DENV infections was positively correlated with the incidence of disease the previous year, strongly supporting an important role for short-term heterotypic immunity in determining the outcome of infection. Primary and secondary infections were equally likely to be inapparent. Knowledge of the extent to which viruses from inapparent infections are transmissible to mosquitoes is urgently needed. Inapparent infections need to be considered for their impact on disease severity, transmission dynamics, and vaccine efficacy and uptake.

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