Brazil's Rio fears dengue epidemic as cases rise

Sure it’s not bird flu, but it still could present problems…click on the bottom of this story for more about Dengue Fever
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, Jan 18 (Reuters) – An outbreak of dengue fever in Brazil’s tourist mecca of Rio de Janeiro has prompted the authorities to step up prevention measures, fearing a repeat of a 2002 epidemic that killed more than 100 people, officials said on Wednesday.
“We have flare-ups in two districts. It needs to be blocked urgently, because without such control we have a risk of having an epidemic again in Rio,” Aloisio Ribeiro, head of Rio state government’s Epidemiology Vigilance Center, told Reuters.
Dengue, or Aedes Aegypti, is carried by mosquitoes and causes severe body pain, fever and headaches. Larvae breed in stagnant waters, in anywhere from abandoned swimming pools to flower pots and car tires left in the open air.
State and municipal authorities will launch a task force on Thursday to combat the disease with vehicle-mounted insecticide sprayers and inspections of private homes and courtyards. Hundreds of workers will be sent to find and destroy larvae that breed in stagnant water.
One of the affected districts is upscale oceanside Barra da Tijuca. Barra and neighboring Jacarepagua accounted for over 250 dengue cases out of 328 registered in Rio last month, and there were similar rates in January. December’s total number of cases was three times higher than a year earlier.
Rio is preparing to receive hundreds of thousands of tourists for its famed annual Carnival in February.
Ribeiro complained that municipal authorities had relaxed their anti-dengue effort in the three years without major outbreaks and rejected their explanation that the disease had been brought from Brazil’s northeast by poor slum dwellers.
“The problem is that there are plenty of mosquitoes, that Rio is an endemic area and there has not been enough effort to prevent dengue,” he said, adding that the overall number of cases in the state was still around last year’s levels.
Because the disease is common within the region, its residents are more likely to contract more than one of dengue’s four strains, increasing the chance of a potentially deadly hemorrhagic form of the disease.
A total of 134 Brazilians died from that in 2002, with nearly 80 percent of the deaths in Rio state. Nearly 740,000 people contracted dengue across the country that year.
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Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne tropical virus that infects about 20 million people each year in southeast Asia and Latin America, and can be fatal.
SYMPTOMS
Dengue symptoms usually appear a week after infection, and include a sudden high fever, headaches and severe joint and muscle pain.
The illness lasts up to ten days but complete recovery can take a month.
TREATMENT
Dengue fever is normally uncomplicated and treatment involves rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
Two of the four types of dengue fever can progress to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which causes bleeding from the nose, gums and inside the body.
RISK
Five percent of haemorrhagic cases are fatal.
Of the hundreds of thousands of haemorrhagic dengue cases reported each year, around 24,000 result in death, according to the U.N. World Health Organisation.
DENGUE HAEMORRHAGIC FEVER
Haemorrhagic dengue is most dangerous to children and people with weak immune systems, but younger children usually contract a milder form of the dengue fever.
Dengue haemorrhagic fever is treated by intensive replacement of lost fluids. Blood transfusions are sometimes necessary.
Recovery from dengue provides lifelong immunity against that type of the virus, but not against the others.
PREVENTION
No vaccine is currently available. Research is in progress to create one.
Unlike the mosquitoes that cause malaria, dengue mosquitoes are daytime feeders.
EPIDEMICS
Dengue epidemics have become larger and more frequent over the last 20 years, especially in urban areas in the tropics.
Air travel, ineffective mosquito control, poor public health and inadequate management of water, sewage and waste systems are important factors in spreading the disease.
Dengue outbreaks in Indonesia in early 2004 claimed more than 650 lives.