PAHO: Dengue on the rise

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging regionwide vigilance as there has been a concerning rise in the number of dengue cases. 

The disease is transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also responsible for the transmission of other diseases including chikungunya and Zika. 

According to PAHO’s Assistant Director, Dr. Rhonda Sealy-Thomas, since the start of the year, there have been 25,000 reported cases of the disease in the Caribbean, 19,000 of which were laboratory confirmed. Of this number, 86 cases were severe with 3 of them resulting in death.

At the end of March 2024, St. Kitts and Nevis had recorded 25 cases of dengue fever. 

“Countries most affected include French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

“In terms of [ensuring] we get correct information, PAHO actively engages Ministries of Health in terms of epidemiology and training to ensure that we have similar case definitions throughout the countries so that we can ensure that when a country reports a case of dengue, it’s standardised. 

“Also, we assist countries in making sure that they have the necessary lab capacity so that they can confirm that they have dengue cases, and we encourage countries to report all their suspected and confirmed cases using our case definition so that we can have standardisation and get as accurate information as possible,” Dr. Sealy-Thomas explained during a press conference on 28th March, 2024.

The assistant director also acknowledged that there is a definite link between tourism, which brings an influx of people to the region, and improper water storage, which creates perfect conditions for mosquitoes to reproduce. 

“These are small islands that are dependent on tourism, like St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua. It’s very important to get a handle on any outbreaks of diseases, including dengue. 

“PAHO has worked with countries of the Caribbean – including these small islands – in controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito in terms of prevention. We have spoken before about, you know, breeding sites. I know, for example, in Antigua and Barbuda, they’re affected by drought so there’s a lot of water storage, so we have to encourage the public to store water safely so that they don’t encourage the breeding of Aedes aegypti mosquito which is the vector that transmits dengue and other diseases,” she said.

Data from PAHO indicates that in 2023 the Americas recorded 4.5 million cases. Of this number, 7665 cases were severe with 2363 resulting in death. These are the highest figures ever recorded by PAHO.

Up to 26th March, 2024, over 3.5 million cases and in excess of 1000 deaths have been reported in the region.

During the press conference, concern was echoed by PAHO’s Director, Jarbas Barbosa, who said statistics indicate that between January and March 2024, reported dengue cases in the region have tripled when compared to the same period in 2023. 

Barbados, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Guadeloupe and Martinique in particular have registered marked increases in the number of cases. 

Barbosa has also called for doubled efforts to eliminate stagnant water catchments which are prime breeding sites for mosquitoes and increased health service preparedness for early diagnosis and case management. Adequate waste management processes were identified as being critical to controlling mosquito reproduction.

He urged people to also take measures to protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes.

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