03/22/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wiping out Dengue Fever in Haiti -- And Everywhere Else

When most people think of a deadly mosquito-transmitted disease, they usually think of malaria. Those who have traveled far and wide, however, know that dengue fever is brutal and, in many Asian and Latin American countries, is one of the leading causes of hospitalization and death in children.

In recent years, there's been concern that dengue could even terrorize the U.S. ( In the past week, dengue has made its way back onto the radar screen because it is endemic in Haiti. And, with infrastructure there in complete shambles, dengue has the potential to spread and create even more havoc.

That's why it's particularly auspicious that, for the first time ever, there's suddenly promising news that we might be able to break this disease's hold on humankind. Sanofi-Aventis just announced in the Journal of Infectious Disease that its vaccine had prevented infection in 100% of test subjects. That is the kind of number that makes public health wonks swoon and leads to major public health investment, in this case a nearly half-billion-dollar new vaccine factory.

The World Health Organization believes that 2.5 billion people live in areas where dengue virus can be transmitted. That's a mind-boggling figure, which unfortunately accounts for the disease's devastating impact: an estimated 50 million infections annually and 22,000 deaths, mainly among children.

But the Sanofi vaccine could change the game. It protected all 66 adults in the clinical trial in which they were given three shots over 15 months. Most promisingly, the majority of test subjects were protected after just two doses. In addition, the vaccine protected the healthy volunteers against all four strains of the virus. This brings the drug-maker to the brink of having created the first vaccine that's proven effective against a disease that threatens *40 percent* of the world's population.

This is the sort of news that should be making headlines but it's not. This is because, as is the case with many similar diseases, dengue disproportionately affects the poor. Like many of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (intestinal worms, trachoma, schistosomiasis), dengue, too, has been long neglected. With this brilliant breakthrough, let's hope its days of neglect and killing will soon draw to a close.