Latin America Rocked by Dengue Fever

An infectious disease is rolling through Latin America, leaving many victims in its wake.

Dengue Fever has plagued the area since 1982 when the disease traveled to the region from Southeast Asia. The mosquito-borne virus preys on children and the elderly. Victims have headaches, rashes, cramps, and severe back and bone pain.

Dengue fever has four distinct virus serotypes. However, these do not provide cross-protective immunity. Therefore, people living in a dengue-endemic area can have four different dengue infections in their lifetimes.

The virus is tropical and transmitted by the domestic day-biting mosquito Ades aegypti.<$> This same species of mosquito transmits yellow fever.

Most dengue sufferers recover after a week, however, a hemorrhagic strain of the virus causes internal bleeding and is often fatal. Doctors treat the symptoms by replenishing blood and plasma, but many people aren't receiving treatment in time. There is no vaccine available.

Researchers say the fever is becoming a pandemic in Latin America because people live near stagnant water, often to not have air conditioning and sleep with their windows open, and live in cramped spaces. These conditions leave an estimated 2.5 billion people at risk worldwide.

More than 3,000 people across several countries are fighting for their lives. The problem doctors keep running into is education-most people do not believe the fever is transmitted by mosquitoes. In Guatemala, doctors are constantly reassuring people that the virus doesn't come from infected air-what many believe is a superstitious side-effect from a 36-year civil war. Ministers have told their congregations that this is a test from God. Only the strong can survive.

Plus, officials question how much they want to teach about the disease. They worry that the pandemic would only worsen if people realized dengue is mosquito-borne. Many of those infected work outside in coffee fields. Doctors worry people would panic and abandon their work, leaving their families without an income.

For now, ignorance has prevented that panic. However, with more people dying each day, doctors are being to weigh the importance of education over the importance of the economy.

Information from the AP, www.cdc.gov.

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