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Several Brazilian states declare health emergency amid Dengue fever spike

Amidst a concerning surge in Dengue fever cases across multiple Brazilian states, authorities have declared health emergencies as the mosquito-borne disease spreads rapidly, with over 364,000 cases reported and 40 confirmed deaths this year.


Incidents of the disease have multiplied in the last month, registering 10,000 cases in Rio de Janeiro this year in comparison to a total of 23,000 in 2023.  Symptoms of Dengue include fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, and a blotchy rash.


The Japanese company Takeda developed a vaccine for the disease that was approved by Brazil’s health regulator in 2023 but is yet to be widely distributed. Eder Gatti of Brazil's health ministry said the Japanese laboratory sent limited doses to the public health services, leading the government to prioritize large municipalities with high dengue transmission rates.


Health officials urge people to apply repellent to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes. Brazil’s Health Minister Nísia Trindade suggests people check their homes for stagnant water which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that transmit dengue.


Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Acre, the Federal District, and Goiás have all declared health emergencies and Argentina has also had a spike in dengue cases. Throughout Brazil, 364,855 cases have been reported this year, four times more than the year before. 


As of February 7, there have been 40 confirmed deaths caused by the mosquito-borne illness, and 265 others are being investigated, said the health ministry.


The capital, Brasília, will begin vaccinating children ages 10-14 on February 9 with the Japanese vaccine Qdenga. 


Furthermore, this weekend marks the start of Carnival which amasses millions of visitors each year. 


The President of the Brazilian International Tourism Promotion Agency (Embratur), Marcelo Freixo, said on the Brazilian national television program “A Voz do Brasil” on Tuesday “We are going to receive 200 million international tourists this carnival.”


With this influx of tourists, the spread of dengue has increased immensely, and Brazilian cities such as Rio are taking measures to prevent an epidemic.


The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom, attributes the outbreak to the El Niño phenomenon that led to increased rainfall in Brazil and other weather anomalies throughout the Americas. With the southern hemisphere currently experiencing summer, South America’s surge in cases is exacerbated by rising temperatures and “the El Niño weather pattern which contributes to a prolonged dengue season,” say scientists.


Some severe cases of the disease can cause hemorrhagic fever, resulting in bleeding that may lead to death. The delayed distribution of the Takeda vaccine adds to the challenge, as Brazil braces for the upcoming Carnival. The outbreak highlights a need for sustained vigilance and proactive response strategies to combat the disease's transmission and impact.

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