Restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus are hampering efforts to deal with the seasonal outbreaks of dengue fever, an incurable mosquito-borne disease, doctors warned.
Also known as “brittle fever” for its very painful symptoms, at least 1.1 million cases of dengue fever and nearly 400 deaths from the disease have been reported in Brazil, where there are more than 1.6 million COVID-19 infections.
Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia have also faced simultaneous outbreaks of dengue and coronavirus this year.
Cases are expected to increase soon with the onset of seasonal rains in Latin American countries such as Cuba, Chile and Costa Rica, as well as in South Asian countries, India and Pakistan.
Dengue fever is not usually fatal, but severe cases may require hospitalization. Prevention efforts to destroy mosquito breeding sites, such as removing trash or old tires and other items containing standing water, remain the best ways to curb the spread of the disease. But the blockages of the coronavirus era and other restrictions have meant that these efforts have been reduced or completely stopped in many countries.
In northwest Pakistan, plans to disinfect tire shops and markets that experienced dengue outbreaks in 2019 have been put on hold due to funds used for the coronavirus, said Dr Rizwan Kundi, chief of Young Doctor’s Association.
Let our news respond to your inbox. The news and stories that matter, delivered in the morning on weekdays.
Health workers who are said to destroy mosquito breeding sites in the Indian capital, New Delhi, are also testing for the virus.
Having to identify thousands of cases of the virus means that surveillance for dengue fever has suffered in many Latin American countries, added Dr. Maria Franca Tallarico, chief of health for the Americas regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Experts say disrupting these prevention efforts bodes ill for the global battle against dengue fever.
The World Health Organization says 2019 was the worst year on record for dengue fever, with all regions affected and some countries being affected for the first time.
Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads dengue, is the most common in cities, and experts warn that increased urbanization and warming temperatures due to climate change mean that its range will continue to increase.
Oliver Brady, associate professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said that Central America and the Caribbean were at higher risk due to overlapping epidemics.
Working with communities in Latin America to prevent mosquitoes from breeding has been the most successful anti-dengue strategy in recent years, said Tallarico. But with strict restrictions on movement, she said they were unsure if these measures were still in effect, and “this is the big concern for us. “
A shortage of protective equipment also means limiting the number of first responders who can monitor people with fever or cough, she said.
“My concern is that you have (many) more cases of dengue … but the system’s ability to notify (and) test is limited,” she said.
Dengue patients need acute care, which could lead to a “double whammy” that overwhelms health care systems, said Scott O’Neill, founder and director of the World Mosquito Program.
“The health system is already collapsing. … I don’t know how the existing health system (in India) will be able to handle this burden, ”said Dr SP Kalantri, public health specialist.