Mark Stevenson, AP, March 30, 2007
The deadly hemorrhagic form of dengue fever is increasing dramatically in Mexico, and experts predict a surge throughout Latin America fueled by climate change, migration and faltering mosquito eradication efforts.
Overall dengue cases have increased by more than 600 percent in Mexico since 2001, and worried officials are sending special teams to tourist resorts to spray pesticides and remove garbage and standing water where mosquitoes breed ahead of the peak Easter Week vacation season.
Even classic dengueknown as “bonebreak fever”can cause severe flu-like symptoms, excruciating joint pain, high fever, nausea and rashes.
More alarming is that a deadly hemorrhagic form of the disease, which adds internal and external bleeding to the symptomsis becoming more common. It accounts for one in four cases in Mexico, compared with one in 50 seven years ago, according to Mexico’s Public Health Department.
While hemorrhagic dengue is increasing around the developing world, the problem is most dramatic in the Americas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like a poster child for the downside of humanity’s impact on the planet, dengue is driven by longer rainy seasons some blame on climate change, as well as disposable plastic packaging and other trash that collects water. Migrants and touristsincluding the many thousands of Americans expected for spring break this yearcarry new strains of the virus across national borders, where mosquitoes can spread the disease.
The CDC says there’s no drug to treat hemorrhagic dengue, but proper treatment, including rest, fluids and pain relief, can reduce death rates to about 1 percent.
The Canadian Embassy in Mexico City issued an alert about dengue after five Canadians were sickened in Puerto Vallarta earlier this year. Acapulco, a city of 700,000, has documented 549 cases of classic and hemorrhagic dengue in the first two months of 2007, up from just 86 for the same period last year.
Dengue is mostly a problem in tropical slums, where trash collection and sanitation are not as good as in tourist areas.
Dengue has been found along the U.S.-Mexico border, where 151 classic and 46 hemorrhagic cases were recorded last year in the Gulf state of Tamaulipas, south of Texas.
Historically, the United States hasn’t been immune from denguea 1922 outbreak in Texas infected a half-million people. And according to the CDC, dengue returned to southern Texas in 1980 after a 35-year absence. Occasional cases since then have included hemorrhagic dengue.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of the world’s leading climate scientists, predicted in March that global warming and climate change would cause an upsurge in dengue. In Mexico, officials say longer rainy seasons already are leading to more cases.
A successful eradication program in Latin America in the 1960s sent the disease into remission, but economic crises and government downsizing sapped those efforts over the next two decades. Some countries reported severe outbreaks in the 1980s, and by the 1990s, dengue began a regional resurgence.
“It’s part of globalization,” Kuri said. “Someone can be in Paraguay, where there is a big outbreak, with type-one virus, and six hours later be in Mexico.”