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Dengue fever outbreak hits Latin America and Caribbean region

How to protect yourself from Aedes mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue

Dr. Phoebe Thorpe and Dr. Marc Fischer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discuss the diseases transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitos and some practical ways individuals can protect themselves.
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Dr. Phoebe Thorpe and Dr. Marc Fischer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discuss the diseases transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitos and some practical ways individuals can protect themselves.

The Pan American Health Organization is warning against a deadly spike in dengue fever in Latin America and the Caribbean, and is calling on communities to eliminate mosquito breeding sites to combat the virus.

After two years of relatively few incidences, the region is experiencing a new epidemic cycle of the disease, with children under the age of 15 being most at risk, said Dr. Marcos Espinal, the director of PAHO’s department of communicable diseases and environmental determinants of health.

In Guatemala, children represent 52 percent of total cases of severe dengue, while in Honduras they constitute 66 percent of all confirmed deaths, according to PAHO’s epidemiological update.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 2 million individuals in the region have contracted the mosquito-borne disease and 723 have already died from it, PAHO said. While it attributes the high number of cases to the climate, environmental management and the mosquito’s capacity to adapt, children’s vulnerability may be due to their lack of immunity, PAHO said.

The 10 countries most affected by dengue, in terms of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, are Nicaragua, Brazil, Honduras, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, Paraguay, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela. Honduras and Nicaragua have already declared national-level epidemiological alerts this year to expedite the response, PAHO said.

It is also of concern in Florida, where the Florida Department of Health earlier this month declared a high risk of the disease in Miami-Dade County after a mosquito tested positive for the dengue virus.

“Dengue is a domestic and community sanitation problem,” said José Luis San Martin, PAHO’s regional advisor on dengue. “The most effective way to combat it is to eliminate [the mosquito’s] breeding sites in order to prevent the mosquito from reproducing because without mosquitoes there would be no transmission of dengue.”

Miami-Dade County workers search communities to identify mosquito-breeding grounds and curb the potential spread of the Zika virus and other mosquito-related illnesses.

Dengue is transmitted by the bites of infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the same species that spreads Zika virus, chikungunya fever and yellow fever. The most common symptoms are high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyeballs, and joint and muscle aches.

Anyone experiencing severe abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, rapid breathing, bleeding from the mucous membranes, fatigue, irritability and presence of blood in the vomit should immediately seek urgent medical attention, PAHO said.

While there is no specific treatment for dengue, timely detection, access to medical care and proper management of the symptoms can reduce complications and the disease’s progression. The virus that causes dengue has four different serotypes, known as DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3 and DEN-4.

When a person recovers from the infection, they do acquire a lifelong immunity but only against a particular serotype of the virus. Subsequent infections caused by other serotypes increase the risk of acquiring more severe forms of dengue. Serotype 2, or DEN-2, is one of the deadliest and is the one currently affecting children and adolescents in the region, PAHO said.

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Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.
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