Extreme weather contributes to dengue outbreak in Latin America

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A medical worker sprays fumigation vapor to stop the spread of the dengue virus at the Nueva Esperanza Cemetery in Lima, Peru on June 1, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

A dengue epidemic has rocked Latin America this year, infecting hundreds of thousands of people and causing far more deaths than similar epidemics in the past. In many ways, the emergency may be more related to climate change than health care, experts say.

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru have all been hit hard by the surge in cases. Dengue fever is rampant across the country in Peru, with more deaths recorded in the first six months of 2023 than for the full year.

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral infection. It causes a wide range of symptoms, including high fever, severe headaches, joint and muscle pain, and rashes. In severe cases, it can cause bleeding, organ damage, and death.

Climate change is causing changes in weather patterns, resulting in increased rainfall during the rainy season and increased flooding. According to the World Health Organization, these conditions create a favorable environment for the mosquitoes that carry the dengue virus to breed and spread.

“There was a period of heavy rainfall, which encouraged the breeding of dengue-carrying mosquitoes and spread the disease to all parts of the country,” said Jorge Irazora, Peru’s Farmamundi representative.

Farmamundi is a Spanish non-profit organization that manages funds that help respond to humanitarian crises and natural disasters.

After a recent visit to deliver aid, including diagnostic kits, drugs and fumigants to combat an epidemic of the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito, Irazola said, “the number of cases has exploded, overburdening the health system. is happening,” he said.

The 2023 Peru wet season will be marked by a series of extreme weather events, including the formation of Cyclone Yak, the first recorded in this part of the Pacific Ocean in 40 years, and subsequent abnormal warming of waters off the country’s coast. was. ’” pointed out Farmamundi.

Peru has more than 184,900 suspected and confirmed dengue cases and 239 dengue-related deaths as of 3 July this year. During the same period last year, there were 49,700 dengue cases and 64 deaths.

“Compared to the period from 2017 to 2023, the case rate has increased by up to more than 90 percent. Therefore, we … consider this situation to be very alarming,” said Non. Arlins Muñoz, a public health expert at the for-profit organization DescoCentro, said: A group participating in the fight against dengue fever in Peru.

“More precipitation, higher average temperatures and humidity create ideal conditions for mosquito breeding and reproduction,” said Luis Jorge Hernandez, an epidemiologist at the University of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. ‘ said. “Add to this the degradation of ecosystems by deforestation, mining and illegal crops.”

Hernandez said environmental problems such as improper waste disposal and storage and poor waste management increase the risk of spreading disease.

Colombia faces a dengue fever crisis in multiple regions. According to the Colombian National Institute of Health, 161 probable dengue deaths were reported in the country by the first week of July. This year, 50,818 people have been infected, and the infection is spreading rapidly.

“It’s still seen as a health issue, but it’s an environmental and ecological issue,” Hernandez said. “I hope the government will take corrective action.”

“Ecuador and Bolivia are also seeing an increase in cases, although not as much as in Peru,” Irasola said. “It is important to treat vector-borne diseases as emergencies and strengthen public health systems.”

By the first week of July, Argentina had about 125,000 cases, compared with fewer than 1,000 in 2022 during the same period. So far this year, 65 people have died from mosquito-borne diseases. No deaths were reported last year.

In April, Argentina approved the use of a dengue vaccine developed by Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. However, a vaccine won’t be available until spring, which begins in September in the southern hemisphere. Governments are also less confident about the ultimate impact of a vaccine given the scale of the crisis.

“Based on the data presented, there is no vaccine that can stop dengue epidemics like the one currently occurring in our country,” the Argentine Ministry of Health said.

The report states that “the best prevention strategies continue to be community participation in controlling and eliminating mosquito breeding sites, as well as enhanced transmission of preventive measures against mosquito bites and the use of vector isolation methods.” ‘ said. in a press release.

The author is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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