Brazil threatened by an unprecedented dengue epidemic

Does a new large-scale epidemic threaten Brazil? Barely recovered from the Covid-19 macre (which claimed 709,000 victims here), the Latin American giant is today facing the accelerated spread of another devastating virus, this time well known: dengue. The explosion in recent weeks in the number of contaminations is such that experts are already talking about a crisis “historical” even ” unprecedented “.

An “Aedes aegypti” mosquito found in a house during a dengue outbreak in Brasilia, February 6, 2024.

Since the start of 2024, the Ministry of Health has counted more than 408,000 cases of this viral disease, transmitted by mosquitoes. Aedes aegyptiwhich causes pain and intense fever, or 337% more than for the same period in 2023. Already, 62 people have officially died as a result of an infection linked to the virus, but 279 other so-called “deaths” suspects” are also being authenticated.

More than half of the cities are affected and four states have declared a state of health emergency. The situation is particularly serious in Minas Gerais (southeast), Acre (Amazon), Parana (south) and, above all, the federal district of Brasilia. The capital has an incidence rate of 1,700 cases of dengue fever per 100,000 inhabitants, well above the alert threshold, established at 300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

“Heat and humidity”

As worrying as it is, the epidemic is only in its infancy. According to the Ministry of Health, Brazil could face a wave of 4.2 to 5 million cases of dengue in 2024: unheard of, in a country that has long been accustomed to tropical diseases. For comparison, the worst year in this regard dates back to 2015. 1.6 million Brazilians were then infected with dengue fever, three times less than the forecasts established for 2024.

An officer sprays insecticide to kill

For several days, a small wind of panic has been blowing across Brazil. Sales of mosquito repellent spray have exploded by 400% according to figures from the Nutriex group, which specializes in this type of product. In Brasilia, hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of tens of thousands of feverish patients. In order to relieve the sector, the air force opened a field hospital on February 5 in Ceilandia, one of the “satellite cities” of the capital. In just three days, it welcomed more than 3,500 patients.

People wait to receive medical care in a makeshift tent to treat suspected cases of dengue fever, in Ceilandia, Brazil, February 5, 2024.
A woman suspected of having dengue fever is helped by soldiers at a military clinic set up to treat the epidemic, in Ceilandia, Brazil, February 9, 2024.

“At the origin of this epidemic, we find a combination of factors”details Edilson Luiz Durigon, virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Sao Paulo. The first of them is climatic: “The El Niño phenomenon caused drought and high temperatures in 2023, followed by heavy rains. Heat and humidity: this is the ideal tail for mosquito proliferation”insists the researcher.

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