ASUNCION – The Pan American Health Organization (OPS) has activated an epidemic alert after the region recorded over 2 million cases of the dengue infection over the course of the year, a figure that has not seen since the last big outbreak in 2016.
“It’s an instrument the organization uses to warn member states in the Americas region of any illness that poses a threat to public health,” doctor Miguel Aragon, contagious diseases consultant for the OPS, told Efe in an interview.
In the latest update for the month of August, the OPS recorded 2,029,342 cases of the disease in Latin America and the Caribbean, of which 723 ended in death.
Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are some of the countries most affected by the spread of the virus.
Dengue is passed on by the “Aedes aegypti” mosquito, the same one that transmits the zika and chikungunya viruses.
Aragon said dengue had hit Central America hardest owing to the hot weather and predicted the number of cases would increase in the Southern Cone of South America with the onset of spring and summer.
Brazil has seen the greatest number of cases, with a total of 1,345,994 people affected.
The OPC consultant said the spread of the virus was directly linked to poverty, since the management of the environment, water and trash affect the propagation of the mosquitoes.
“This is very much linked to the development of the countries, but above all with the conditions of poverty our populations are in,” Aragon said, warning of outbreaks in “pockets” of big cities.
The doctor acknowledged the impact that climate change has on the development of the disease, given that the increase in temperature and humidity provide favorable breeding conditions for Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
“The mosquito has become another pet in our homes because we can’t get rid of it,” Aragon lamented.
Children, the elderly and people with any kind of chronic illness are the most at risk of serious health complications after contracting dengue.
The doctor stressed the importance of citizens going to medical centers when they detect any of the virus’ warning signs, such as strong fevers, intense headaches, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
“It’s an illness whereby today you don’t feel too bad but in two or three days it can evolve into a serious situation and when the patient feels really unwell it makes it hard for medical staff to respond,” said Aragon.
The OPS has advised member countries to maintain an integrated arbovirus management strategy that not only includes health measures, but also prevention methods like fumigating larvae and the removal of water containers, where mosquitoes put their larvae.
According to Aragon’s estimations, the current dengue epidemic could reach 2.5 million cases by the end of the year, though he doesn’t foresee an increase in the lethality of the virus compared to previous years.
There is currently no vaccine against dengue, although the OPS is carrying out biological research and the genetic modification of mosquitoes, which needs further work before testing.
“The conditions in our cities are favorable so that the illness stays with us in future years,” said Aragon. “While we don’t have effective technological tools to wipe out this illness, we have to keep fighting,” the doctor concluded.