updated 8/28/2007 8:03:17 PM ET 2007-08-29T00:03:17

Health officials in Puerto Rico warned Tuesday of a potential epidemic of dengue fever in the U.S. territory, with seven suspected deaths from the disease this year.

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More than 3,200 suspected dengue cases have been reported across the Caribbean island since January, more than double the number for the same period last year, according to government epidemiologist Enid Garcia Rivera.

"We are in what could be a dengue epidemic," she said.

Most of the confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne illness have occurred in Puerto Rico's urban areas, where health officials have launched a public education campaign to encourage people to eliminate pools of stagnant water, potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

The island's dengue strain has been mild so far, with the majority of people who may be infected showing only flu-like symptoms.

There is no vaccination or cure for dengue, which is also known as break-bone fever because of the severe joint pains it causes. Victims bitten by mosquitoes carrying the disease suffer a high fever and sometimes nausea and rashes. In rare cases, the ailment can be fatal.

Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are running tests to confirm if the seven suspected deaths in Puerto Rico were caused by deng

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