Largest Dengue Fever Outbreak in Latin America Since 2013
Dengue fever, a small itch that can lead to death, has wrecked Latin America, particularly Central American countries. According to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), a subsidiary of the World Health Organization (WHO), infectious levels reached a total of 244.1 cases per 100,000 in the entire region this year, with 949 deaths reported region-wide.
These numbers are the highest they have been since 2013.
Scientists are worried about the sheer quantity of cases, especially since the wet season is still underway in many of the hardest-hit countries such as Nicaragua and Honduras. One of the strains of dengue that has been diagnosed is DENV 2, the most aggressive and oftentimes the deadliest. This particular strain, also called hemorrhagic dengue, is more likely to affect those who were previously infected. In the most severe cases, it can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding, and internal organ damage.
Children, with fewer defenses, unfortunately have a disproportionate amount of fatal outbreaks. This is also due to the long amount of time that children spend playing outdoors at school, particularly the age 5-9 group.
Dengue fever is transmitted by Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries yellow fever, Zika, and chikungunya. Characterized by its black-and-white spotted legs, the mosquito thrives under warm and humid climates, making densely populated areas with poor sanitation conditions the most vulnerable. Large puddles of stagnant water are the perfect breeding ground for Aedes aegypti. With the wet season still well underway, many families in poor urban communities will collect rainwater on roof tanks. If not sealed properly, these storages could easily become infested with mosquitoes.
While none of the dengue strains are directly linked to climate change, it is likely that dengue will continue to spread and become more frequent in the future. Coupled with the rapid rise of unplanned urbanism and increased intercontinental travel, the “perfect storm” has created hotspots where Aedes aegypti can thrive.
“Warmer climates have created the optimum conditions for dengue to spread more quickly, as the virus replicates faster and mosquitoes breed more quickly,” said Dr. Rachel Lowe, assistant professor at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene to The Telegraph.
Countries have started to employ fumigation efforts at the provincial level to control the spread of dengue. The only effective way to stop the spread of the disease, argues Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandéz at a meeting of mayors, “is to destroy the breeding grounds for the mosquitoes – that is up to us as by avoiding sitting water in our homes, offices, and all public areas.”
Central America and Mexico have already recorded nearly double the amount of dengue cases compared to last year. Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador are among the countries with the highest incidence rates.
Nicaragua is the country with the second highest incidence rate in Latin America, preceded by Brazil. But with only 19 deaths reported, it has one of the lowest dengue mortality rates.
Dengue has overwhelmed the healthcare system in Honduras. Children's wards are at capacity, with many hospitals having to accommodate dengue fever patients in the burned victims unit. Hospital beds are lined up and covered in mosquito nets to prevent further infection. Some hospitals have had to postpone elective and non-life-saving surgeries to make space for dengue patients.
Although there has been a decrease in cases these past two weeks, it is unclear if the pattern will remain as the wet season continues.