Dengue fever cases escalate in Peru’s northern Amazon region

A fast-growing outbreak of dengue fever, aggravated by the torrid summer heat and accompanied by the reappearance of the more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever, is preoccupying residents and Peruvian health authorities in Iquitos, a city of approximately 300,000 residents in Peru’s northern Amazon region.

According to a report published by the Health Ministry’s General Epidemiology Direction, 3,440 cases of dengue fever have been confirmed and 8,143 other cases have been classified as highly probable. Of these, 19 cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever have been diagnosed.

So far, in Iquitos, San Juan, Punchana, Yurimaguas and Belén, the number of infections is more than double the same period last year. However, no deaths have been reported.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne infection that causes a severe flu-like illness, and sometimes a potentially lethal complication called dengue hemorrhagic fever.

Symptoms of dengue range from a mild fever, to incapacitating high fever, with severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, and rash. Dengue hemorrhagic fever, however, is a potentially lethal complication including symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and bleeding.

As there are no specific antiviral medicines for dengue, the only way to prevent transmission is to combat the disease-carrying mosquitoes.

This is why we are fumigating homes, said Yuri Alegre, director of Loreto’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control. But, unfortunately, approximately 20 percent of residents have resisted the fumigation, he added.

The Regional Health Office also has 60 people carrying out sanitary inspections, home by home, to verify if water storage containers meet health regulation standards, in order to prevent the growth of disease-transmitting mosquito larvae.

“Heat greatly accelerates the reproductive cycle of mosquitoes,” said Luis Miguel León, coordinator of the Strategy for Prevention and Control of Transmittable Diseases.

Mosquito eggs can survive for 18 months without water, waiting for the droplets that will allow them to pursue their reproductive cycle, he added.

From March to July 1990, an epidemic of dengue occurred in Iquitos and the surrounding area. A smaller outbreak was reported in Tarapoto, in the neighboring department of San Martin.

Although cases were reported in Peru from 1953-1955 and in 1958, the 1990 epidemic was the first laboratory confirmation of indigenous transmission of dengue in the Andean country.

Hemorrhagic manifestations, such as bleeding gums, were noted in 6.5 percent of patients with clinical dengue.

A second outbreak occured in the same area from May 2000 to May 2001.

The disease is mostly found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world, predominantly in urban and semi-urban areas, such as the city of Iquitos.

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