BOGOTA (Reuters) – When coronaviruses killed thousands and dominated the attention of governments throughout Latin America, other deadly virus infections quietly lurked in the region.
PHOTO PHOTO: Aedes aegypti mosquito seen in Oxitec’s laboratory in Campinas, Brazil, February 2, 2016. REUTERS / Paulo Whitaker
Dengue fever, which is referred to daily as backbone fever for severe joint pain it causes – is endemic in much of Latin America, but the arrival of COVID-19 has drawn attention and an important resource from the struggle against it, doctors and officials say.
Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) expects 2020 to be marked by a high rate of dengue fever, which can fill intensive care units and kill patients even without the pressure of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by new coronaviruses.
Around the world, COVID-19 has affected other diseases in various ways. Although in Europe measures to stop the corona virus have eliminated seasonal flu, in Africa border closures have stopped transporting measles vaccines and other supplies.
In Latin America, dengue outbreaks that began in late 2018 are still being felt. Dengue infections in America surged to an all-time high of 3.1 million in 2019, with more than 1,500 deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to PAHO.
Disease cases must start to decline in the second half of this year, the organization said.
Spread by mosquitoes, dengue outbreaks usually occur three to five years after the previous epidemic.
And with four types of dengue fever circulating, people may catch it more than once, with the second case more severe.
“COVID is a star at the moment, so all attention is paid to COVID, but there are still problems with dengue,” said Doctor Jaime Gomez, who works at a hospital in Floridablanca, in the Colombian province of Santander.
Although dengue fever is usually not fatal and can be treated with painkillers, some sufferers face persistent symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, and depression that affect their ability to work. Severe DHF is treated with intravenous fluids and those who are not tested are at risk of developing dangerous complications.
Such medical intervention cannot be given if the patient stays at home, is afraid of contracting the corona virus, or if an overcrowded hospital has to refuse it.
With relatively few cases of COVID-19 in the province where he works, Gomez said that his clinic had decreased by half, because people were afraid to roam outside the home.
‘THE SYSTEM HAS COLLECTED’
Paraguayan lawyer Sonia Fernandez avoided seeking treatment when she and her two daughters, ages 11 and 8, developed dengue fever in early April.
“All three of us have dengue fever, we have all the symptoms, pain, rashes, but we don’t go to clinics or health centers so we don’t expose ourselves (to COVID-19),” Fernandez said.
All three have recovered.
Cases of dengue fever in Paraguay have exploded this year. In the first 18 weeks of 2020, the country reported 42,710 confirmed cases and 64 deaths, compared with 384 confirmed cases and six deaths in the previous year period.
In Ecuador, where a coronavirus outbreak has hit hard and hospitals in the largest city of Guayaquil are overwhelmed, a noticeable reduction in the number of dengue cases could mask other problems.
According to the Ecuadorian health ministry, dengue cases peaked in 888 in the week ending March 14, two weeks after the country confirmed its first COVID-19 case. For the week of April 4, they fell to 257.
“It’s very clear dengue is being reported,” said Esteban Ortiz, global health researcher at Quito’s University of the Americas.
“Cases have not diminished, the diagnosis of cases has declined, which confirms the system has really collapsed,” he added.
Ecuador’s health ministry said in a statement that the country was no longer exposed to the double effects of COVID-19 and dengue fever compared to others in the region, and added that it had sufficient supplies to treat cases of mosquito-borne diseases.
Dengue fever has also risen sharply in Central America. Cases in Costa Rica have almost tripled to May 1 compared to last year, more than 2,000.
“We are going through a difficult time dealing with COVID-19 but unfortunately other diseases continue their cycle,” Rodrigo Marin, director of the Costa Rica health surveillance agency, recently told reporters.
In Panama, where dengue has caused at least two deaths this year, Panama City health official Yamileth Lopez also sounded an alarm in an interview with Reuters.
“Dengue fever also kills,” he said.
Reporting by Oliver Griffin; additional reporting by Daniela Desantis at Asuncion, Alexandra Valencia in Quito, Alvaro Murillo in San Jose and Elida Moreno in Panama City; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Rosalba O’Brien
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