The Americas should prepare for dengue

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The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has advised that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean should prepare for possible dengue outbreaks.

“Dengue is a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes that is widespread in the Americas,” said Dr Marcos Espinal, Director of the Department of Communicable Diseases and Environmental Determinants of Health. “Its complexity has been increasing over the years due to several factors such as unplanned urban growth, water and sanitation problems, climate change, and, in some countries, the simultaneous circulation of all four types of dengue, which increases the risk of serious cases and outbreaks.”

The disease viral disease causes flu-like illness and can sometimes develop into a potentially lethal complication called severe dengue. On 22 February, PAHO published an epidemiological update in which it said that 560,586 cases of dengue were reported in the Americas last year, which included 3,535 severe cases and 336 deaths. Furthermore, in the first six weeks of 2019, nearly 100,000 cases were reported, which included 632 severe cases and 28 deaths. Although there is no specific treatment for dengue, early detection and access to proper medical care lowers fatality rates below one per cent.

Effective vector control measures are crucial in the prevention and control of dengue. PAHO has advised countries to intensify disease surveillance and step up vector control measures to reduce mosquito populations. In addition, it said that population education should be continued, along with community involvement initiatives, and requested that countries ensure health professionals are trained in the diagnosis of the disease and the adequate management of patients.

PAHO said that if a physician isn’t sure whether a patient is presenting with dengue, chikungunya or Zika, clinical management and treatment of dengue should begin immediately, without waiting for a laboratory diagnosis. The patient should also be monitored to pick up on any serious warning signs. “The key is recognising the warning signs early and providing the care required to prevent it progressing to more serious forms,” said José Luis San Martin, PAHO’s Regional Advisor on dengue.

Given the seriousness of the disease, hopefully with PAHO’s recommendations the Americas can implement appropriate measures to get dengue under control and save the lives of residents, as well as travellers to the region. As is well known by now, there is no vaccine for dengue and the best thing travellers can do protect themselves when visiting an area where the infection is present is to prevent mosquito bites using long clothing and repellents. Importantly, travellers should seek medical assistance if they experience feverish illness while travelling.