RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian health authorities are on alert in the face of an outbreak of yellow fever, with 47 cases being detected in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais and the risk that it could spread to nearby areas where potential cases are starting to be detected.
The Health Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that 152 suspected cases of the disease have been detected in 26 municipalities in rural parts of Minas Gerais, the country’s second most populous state, and authorities have sent more than 700,000 doses of vaccine and a support team to the region to collaborate in investigating and dealing with the situation.
In addition, the ministry will send 350,000 doses of vaccine to the neighboring state of Espirito Santo after the appearance of apparent yellow fever cases in cities near the border with Minas Gerais, which has declared a health emergency.
Health Minister Ricardo Barros said that although the authorities are on “alert,” the situation is “under control.”
“We have an alert. The recommendation for vaccination in 19 states is ongoing and the vaccine is available,” he said.
Minas Gerais Gov. Fernando Pimentel promised that the authorities would provide all necessary aid to deal with the virus.
“Yellow fever is a disease with a high degree of lethality. The best way to confront it is by vaccination, which is what we’re doing massively in the municipalities where the disease was detected. We have to redouble our efforts, not scrimp on resources or waste time,” he said.
Experts distinguish two types of yellow fever that differ in terms of their vectors: the rural form, transmitted by the Heomagogus and Sabethes mosquitoes, which mainly attack macaque monkeys, and the urban form, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also carries dengue, the Zika virus and Chikungunya.
The outbreak in Minas Gerais was preceded by the deaths of dozens of macaques that had been infected with the disease, a phenomenon that sparked alarm among experts and was repeated in Espirito Santo.
Andre Siqueira, a health expert with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, said that those most vulnerable to the disease include “pregnant women, children and the elderly,” adding that the possible arrival of the disease in urban areas is of “concern,” because “there have been no urban yellow fever cases in Brazilian cities since 1942.”
In 2015, nine cases of rural yellow fever were registered in Brazil, with five of those people dying, and last year there were six cases, again with five deaths.
Despite these apparently very high fatality rates, yellow fever generally kills “only” up to 45 percent of infected individuals. The symptoms of the disease are similar to dengue, including fever, headache, chills and generalized muscular pain, but it can cause infections in the liver and kidneys and lead to hemorrhagic shock and progressive organ failure.