Dengue Surging in Mexico, Latin America

The Associated Press
Friday, March 30, 2007; 10:57 PM

MEXICO CITY -- 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 dengue _ known 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 symptoms _ is 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 tourists _ including the many thousands of Americans expected for spring break this year _ carry 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.

Latin America's hospitals are ill-equipped to handle major outbreaks, and officials say the virus is likely to grow deadlier, in part because tourism and migration are circulating four different strains across the region. A person exposed to one strain may develop immunity to that strain _ but subsequent exposure to another strain makes it more likely the person will develop the hemorrhagic form.

This dengue spread "is one of the primordial public health problems the country faces," said Mexico's Public Health Department, which has sent hundreds of workers to the resorts of Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Acapulco to try to avert outbreaks ahead of the Easter week vacation.

"We are working intensively, both the federal and state governments, on (these) three sites that we want to keep under control, so that it doesn't become a risk for tourists," said Pablo Kuri, head of Mexico's National Center for Epidemiology and Disease Control.

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.

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