In Latin America today dengue kills, not the coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak that originated in China attracts worldwide attention, and the question everyone asks is whether it will reach Latin America, and when. Although the 2019-nCoV virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, thousands of kilometers from the American continent, there were already several alerts, all of them ruled out, in Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, and there are still several cases under observation in Brazil .

So far, the lethality of the coronavirus, with more than 17,205 cases and 361 deaths in China, represents 2.09% in that country. Only one case outside of China, in the Philippines, was also fatal to date.

As a comparison, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), until January 2020, the Ebola virus has a mortality rate that varies between 50% and 88%. The H1N1 influenza virus presented between 2009 and 2010 0.02% of fatal cases. The MERS recorded 2,494 cases in 2012, and 34.40% of deaths. In 2013, bird flu (H7N9) had 39.30% of deaths among 1,568 cases.

However, the progress of the coronavirus in Asia is so rapid that many speculate that it could soon reach Latin America. Faced with this, which for now is only a great fear, several other infectious diseases come to life day by day in the region today, and for decades.

Tuberculosis is maintained throughout the Americas with 280,000 cases per year in the 21st century. Malaria is returning to some tropical areas, with Venezuela leading the way in 2017, according to WHO.

Exponential increase in dengue in Latin America

But the disease that most worries about these days in Latin America is dengue fever, which has reached its historical peak there and has advanced exponentially in recent decades.

It is now the viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes that spreads more rapidly throughout the planet, and both the UN and scientific studies warned about the effects of global warming on it, since this leads to greater survival and faster proliferation of Aedes mosquitoes, dengue transmitters.

Confirmed cases of dengue in Latin America and the Caribbean between 2019 and 2020 reached 3,095,821. There were 1,530 deaths, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The lethal rate of this disease was 0.049% in 2019. Those figures are the highest since 1980, when 65,523 cases were recorded across the continent. The second year with the highest number of dengue cases was 2015, with 2,415,693.

According to the director of the Department of Communicable Diseases of PAHO, Marcos Espinal, "the region is going through a new epidemic period of dengue with a notable increase in cases." Already in January 2020, more than 125,000 people became dengue sick , and at least 27 died throughout the region.

From North America to the Southern Cone

In 2019, Mexico recorded 191 deaths due to dengue, with 41,505 confirmed cases. In Central America there were 295 fatal cases, with the greatest focus of the epidemic in Honduras, which suffered 180 deaths. The Minister of Health of that country, Roberto Consenza, said in an interview with the agency Efe on 29.01.2020 that his country could face an epidemic of dengue "bigger" than that of 2019.

Alarming is the progression of dengue in that territory, since there is an average of 1,000 suspected cases per week, 80 of which belong to the hemorrhagic variant. The incidence of this disease in children under 15 in Central America is also worrying. In Guatemala, for example, 52% of severe dengue cases are counted within that age sector, a figure surpassed by Honduras, where it represents 66%.

In the Southern Cone, dengue especially hits Brazil, where there were 2,201,115 cases in 2019, compared to 265,934 cases in 2018. That is also where the highest number of deaths occurred in 2019: 782, according to Ministry figures of Health of Brazil. In Colombia, 127,553 cases of dengue fever and 87 fatalities were registered in 2019.

So far in 2020, Paraguay and Honduras are leading the dengue outbreaks. Earlier this year, more than 20,000 people were affected by the disease in Paraguay. The case of the contagion of the president of that country, Maro Abdo Benítez, who was diagnosed with the virus, made the headlines.

On January 29, the country's capital, Asunción, declared a 90-day environmental and health emergency as a measure against the dengue epidemic. According to the Health Surveillance office, there were only four deaths confirmed by dengue, but there are 23 other deaths still being studied. Honduras has already registered more than 3,200 cases.

Bolivia accounted for 16,193 cases in 2019, and at least 23 deaths, and began 2020, according to the Ministry of Health, with 2,143 infections and 700,000 cases awaiting laboratory confirmation. Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay imposed stricter border controls, along with Brazil.

Dengue, a health challenge in Latin America

Dengue represents a great challenge for Latin America. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, so the most urgent sanitary measures are the clarification campaigns among the population of the different countries so that all the places where these insects reproduce are eliminated, especially those that are inside and near the houses

PAHO points out that dengue is "a problem of domestic and community sanitation," and that the most effective way to combat it is to get rid of all kinds of objects and containers "that can accumulate water, such as drums, used tires, cans, bottles and vases. "

Dengue affects babies, young children and adults. The most frequent symptoms are high fever (40º C), very severe headache, pain behind the eyeballs and joint and muscle aches. If these symptoms occur, as well as severe abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, rapid breathing, bleeding in the mucous membranes and vomit, and fatigue, it is necessary to go to the doctor urgently.

Severe dengue is life-threatening, as it can lead to fluid accumulation, severe bleeding and organ failure. While there is no specific treatment for this disease, early detection, medical care and proper patient advice can save lives.