Health Officials Warn of Tripling Dengue Cases in the Americas


Dengue fever is spreading across the Americas this year, from Puerto Rico to Brazil, with 3.5 million cases confirmed so far, health officials warned Thursday.

Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, director of the Pan American Health Organization, the World Health Organization’s regional office in the Americas, said the figure is three times more than the number of cases reported at this point last year.

Last year, the region saw a record 4.5 million cases, and PAHO authorities forecast a new high this year.

Dengue fever often surges during the wet season, which is still many months away. According to officials, some areas are reporting dengue for the first time.

When infected mosquitoes bite people, they carry the dengue virus. Rising temperatures, increased urbanization, climate-related droughts, and floods, as well as poor sanitation and a lack of efficient health systems in some nations, are driving the spike, according to health officials.

The virus can produce severe headaches, fever, vomiting, rashes, and other symptoms. While most infected persons do not develop symptoms, severe cases might result in death. There is no specific treatment other than pain relievers.

The majority of current instances are in the Southern Hemisphere, with over 80% in Brazil, followed by Paraguay, Argentina, Peru, and Colombia. So far this year, the Americas have reported approximately 1,000 deaths.

According to Dr. Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, PAHO’s assistant director, over 25,000 cases have been documented in the Caribbean alone, with French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic being the most impacted countries.

On Monday, Puerto Rico’s health secretary declared an epidemic, with over 540 cases and at least 341 hospitalized. The figures are troubling because areas of the island are now experiencing a mild drought, and the wettest month is not until August.

The increase in cases prompted Rio de Janeiro to declare a public health emergency last month, ahead of Carnival. Peru did the same for the majority of its provinces, and others followed suit.

Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri of the Pan American Health Organization stated that four distinct dengue viruses are circulating in the Americas. “We have to be prepared for this.”

Some countries have released specially bred mosquitos with a bacteria called Wolbachia, which combats dengue.

Josian Bruno, a resident of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, experienced a fever and bodily aches last month. A lab test indicated that the 38-year-old’s kidneys had failed due to severe dehydration. He was in the hospital for six days, and the day after his release, his test results came back positive for dengue.

“When they tell you it’s renal failure, that’s scary,” he told me.

A month has gone by, and Bruno is still having trouble moving his arms and walking, and he has been unable to restart his thrice-weekly runs.

While a new dengue vaccine is available in limited availability, it requires two doses administered three months apart. Barbosa stated that they are monitoring how effectively it truly works. He suggested a single-shot vaccine would not be available until next year.

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