Peru battles worst dengue outbreak in decades

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, May 17 (EFE).- Global warming, inadequate access to clean water, and flooding associated with El Niño have combined to spur Peru’s worst outbreak of dengue fever since the start of the 21st century.

The 72,000 confirmed and probable infections in the first 4 1/2 months of this year surpassed the total for all of 2017, the occasion of the Andean nation’s most recent epidemic of the mosquito-borne tropical disease.

Dengue causes high fever, headaches, vomiting and rashes, while its more serious form – hemorrhagic dengue – can be fatal, and the malady has claimed 79 lives so far this year in Peru.

Most of the suspected infections will likely be confirmed once testing is completed, Dr. Cesar Munayco, chief epidemiologist at the health ministry, told EFE.

El Niño was also a contributing factor in 2017, when authorities detected 68,290 cases.

On the bright side, Munayco pointed out that the mortality rate during the current outbreak is 0.11 percent, lower than in 2017.

“There is a direct relation between temperature and the impact of dengue on the population,” he said. “Temperatures are rising in general and they are above the median and remain there for quite a long time.”

Here in Lima, where summer usually ends in March, hot weather has persisted into May.

“These conditions favor rapid reproduction of the mosquito, as well as shorten the incubation period and the mosquito, once infected, becomes infectious in three of four days,” Munayco said.

Peru’s inefficient water system also plays a role.

“Regrettably, we have problems with water in the greater part of the country. The water doesn’t flow 24 hours (a day) and in some zones, people have to store it in containers for consumption and washing,” the health official said, noting that standing water provides a breeding ground for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry dengue.

In a typical year, dengue fever affects mainly the Amazonian regions of Peru, located in the north and east.

During the 2017 outbreak, the northern region of Piura, bordering Ecuador, accounted for more than half of all cases, and it leads in the number of infections this year.

But the current epidemic has been felt strongly in Lima, where cases stand at 5,260, up 560 percent from the same period last year and 14 times the number recorded in all of 2017.

Munayco said that a candidate for a vaccine against dengue is awaiting approval by the Pan American Health Organization.

“As soon as they approve it,” he told EFE, “the country will acquire vaccines.”

The Peruvian government has declared a public health emergency in 222 districts across 20 of the nation’s 25 regions, which entails fumigation to suppress the mosquito population, money transfers to regional and local administrations, and efforts to minimize strain on a health care system that was overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic. EFE csr/dr

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