– Outbreaks of dengue fever in Brazil have prompted deployment of military for health aid
– Paraguay trying to combat yellow fever through widespread vaccinations
– Dengue fever will decline in near-term in coming winter months, but virus outbreaks likely in long-term due to poor health systems
South America has seen a resurgence of deadly viruses since the beginning of 2008. Brazil and Paraguay in particular have suffered intensely from viruses such as: dengue, West Nile, and yellow fever, typically carried by mosquitoes. Both nations are combating outbreaks of disease with poorly equipped health systems, while simultaneously attempting to downplay the seriousness of the health crisis.
Dengue Fever in Brazil
Brazil has continued to battle a growing dengue fever epidemic since January 2008, with a rapid increase in the number of cases since the beginning of March. While exact numbers remain uncertain, it is believed that at least 32,000 cases have been confirmed in Rio de Janeiro since January 2008, resulting in the deaths of 49 people. Government health officials have begun to take both emergency measures to counter the rising number of cases, as well as preventative measures to ensure the disease’s effect is minimal in the future. No vaccine is available for the fever and it can generally only be cured with early treatment.
On March 26, 2008, Brazilian Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao announced the government would send over 600 health officials to the state of Rio de Janeiro, an area of the nation that has been most affected. Public hospitals are overwhelmed, prompting the military to open three field hospitals on March 31, 2008. 1200 military doctors and health personnel are scheduled to staff the facilities around the clock, resulting in the availability of a total of 140 beds for treatment. Initial reports indicate the field facilities are meeting the needs as lines were short on the first day of operation, and triage was efficient.
An additional 500 troops have been deployed to eradicate areas of standing water where mosquitoes, which carry dengue fever, generally breed. Cars are also being used to spray insecticides, especially in areas of stagnant water. While the regions that have been most affected are relatively far from high-tourist districts, it is impossible to guarantee complete isolation from the disease.
Yellow Fever in Paraguay
Paraguay has also been struggling with a similar viral outbreak since the start of 2008. At least 12 cases of yellow fever, not reported in the country since 1974, have been confirmed with at least three deaths since January 2008. Yellow fever is also a mosquito-borne disease, however a vaccine is available. One million people, out of the total 6.5 million populous, have been vaccinated so far, with health officials planning to use an additional 2 million doses of vaccine from France imported in late-February 2008. In recent days, imported vaccines have rapidly increased, including hundreds of thousands of doses being shipped from Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and United Nations (UN) stockpiles. The new vaccines have been distributed first to workers in factories and business, then among the rest of the population.
However, even with the influx of imported vaccines, Paraguay’s health officials have had difficulties supplying vaccines to all that request them. Citizens have attempted to go to clinics for inoculations, but government health centers continue to be under-stocked. With media reports in Paraguay continually referring to yellow fever as a pandemic, tension remains high among citizens that the government does not have a clear plan to eradicate the disease.
The negative effects from dengue fever in Brazil will likely decrease in the near-term, as cooler weather will dissipate the outbreak’s “fuel” from the hot, wet summer. However, as also seen in the yellow fever crisis in Paraguay, poor disease prevention and weak public health systems will continue to plague both nations. Disease outbreaks are likely in the long-term until health systems are strengthened to handle large-scale epidemics. Visitors to both nations should take appropriate medical precautions before planning travel.