By Lucy Lorena Libreros
Bogota, Aug 26 (EFE).- The Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than two million people across the Americas, has had another silent effect that is reverberating among children and teenagers in the Western Hemisphere: greater exposure to dengue fever.
On the International Day Against Dengue, Dr. Ivan Dario Velez, the chief researcher with the World Mosquito Program, explained to EFE that the Aedes aegypti mosquito – the one that transmits the disease to humans – is “an eminently household vector, it lives inside the home, hides and reproduces there.”
The Colombian scientist said that “with children spending more time at home over the past 17 months, they have been exposed more to the bite of this mosquito,” and thus dengue has become more prevalent among children and teens.
Experiencing that situation firsthand a couple of months ago was Sandra Milena Garcia in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, who was forced to take her 8-year-old daughter to the emergency room with a fever of 40 C (104 F), vomiting, lethargy and a reddish color on her gums.
“During that time, there were many cases of dengue, but also children with Covid. There were so many that after six days of hospitalization, they quickly sent my daughter home to be cared for by me because the doctors were worried that, in addition to dengue, she might get the coronavirus. We were in the third wave and the hospital couldn’t handle so many people,” Garcia said.
Since then, she said, she has paid close attention about not leaving standing water outside near her home where the mosquitoes can breed, since the Aedes aegypti is responsible for transmitting not only dengue but also zika and chikunguya, among other diseases.
Velez said that the pandemic has had a double effect: “On the one hand, people (have) greater difficulties accessing healthcare because the health services have collapsed; on the other, they’re afraid of going to hospitals (where they might become) infected with the coronavirus.”
According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in 2020 there were 2.3 million known cases of dengue in the Americas, compared with 3.2 million in 2019, when the hemisphere was facing a significant health emergency because of this disease.
So far during 2021, a total of 910,051 dengue cases have been reported throughout the region – 93.5 per 100,000 people – and 1,236 of them have been serious leading to 227 deaths. In terms of the three most heavily affected countries, Brazil has had 752,284 dengue patients, Peru 36,728 and Nicaragua 26,067.
Of this total 0.13 percent of the patients have suffered serious cases of dengue and of that group, the largest number – 355 – have been in Colombia, where the World Mosquito Program is pursuing its initiative in cities like Cali and Medellin.
The mitigation technique, created by Australian physician Scott O’Neill, consists of using the “wolbachia” bacteria to infect a community of Aedes aegypti to prevent transmission of dengue. This biological measure is a complement to the prevention programs under way in 11 countries.
Following Colombia in the number of serious dengue cases is Brazil with 255, a country that – despite a virulent outbreak in 2019 – saw its dengue figures plummet in 2020 and 2021.
The South American giant ended 2020 with 979,764 probable dengue cases and 541 deaths, figures considerably lower than those from the previous year, with 2019 being the second-worst year for dengue infection with 1,544,987 reported cases and almost 1,000 deaths.
In 2021, the trend remains level, at least in terms of reported cases.
“The impression is that the dengue cases are being diluted within the Covid (wave) because often the symptoms are the same, including body aches, fever, headache,” epidemiologist Rebecca Saad, the coordinator of the infection control program at the Dr. Joao Amorim Studies and Research Center (CEJAM) in Sao Paulo, told EFE.
“Dengue has been a little bit forgotten, both in prevention and in the diagnosis, So, our fear is that (the cases) will really increase from 2022 to 2023,” she warned.
In addition, Honduras suffered 237 cases, along with two deaths from serious dengue, also known as hemorrhagic dengue.
One of the fatalities was a 74-year-old man living in Tegucigalpa and the other was a 27-year-old pregnant woman in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city.
Other countries like Paraguay, which traditionally has suffered from dengue, are showing more hopeful prospects so far in 2021, with Asuncion reporting the lowest number cases in the past 11 years, as the director of the National Malaria Eradication Service (Senepa), Hernan Rodriguez, told EFE.