Dengue Fever Epidemic Spreads Across South America

AP Photo/Victor Rojas

Hundreds of thousands of people have been sickened by dengue fever in South America this year, and more than 70 have died, the Miami Herald reports. "This is the largest epidemic in many years," said Dr. Eddy Martinez, the director of epidemiology for Bolivia's Ministry of Health in the capital city of La Paz.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne virus that is native to lowland tropical regions around the world but rarely found in the northern hemisphere. The virus gave its hardest blow this year to Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Cases in Bolivia have lessened in recent weeks as the weather has grown colder, but it continues in areas that are warmer. Almost 150,000 cases have been detected in Brazil, along with 4,000 cases in Paraguay, 13,000 in Argentina and more than 55,000 in Bolivia.

There are four strains of the virus and symptoms tend to be flulike, including dehydration and severe fever. "It's horrible," said Martinez, adding that "if it's treated early, it's seldom fatal." The most frightening form of the disease is dengue hemorrhagic fever, which affects the circulatory system and internal organs. Those suffering from advanced hemorrhagic dengue bleed from their noses and ears, and internally. Organ failure can lead to death.

According to the CDC, four factors encourage the disease's spread: increased urbanization, failed public health infrastructures in many countries, increased travel by airplane and a lack of effective mosquito control. It’s up to the governments to spend on clean water, virus control and public health services in order to contain dengue.

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