By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Brazilian Ministry of Health has released a statement reporting an eighty percent increase in confirmed cases of the dengue virus in 2010 according to official figures registered in the first three months of the year, and next summer could see a new increase in the dangerous type one strain of the virus in Rio, currently only found in the interior of the state.

Brazilian Minister of Health José Gomes Temporão speaking at a conference, photo by Elza Fiúza/ABr.

Dengue is a potentially life threatening disease caused by one of four closely related viruses spread by bites from Aedes mosquitoes. The most severe form of dengue infection is known as Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF), which is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics.

More than one-third of the world’s population lives in areas at risk for transmission, and it is estimated that over 100 million dengue cases occur worldwide each year. There remains no vaccine or effective cure for the virus, yet preventative measures can keep the risk of infection at bay, and good medical care has been proven to reduce the mortality rate of DHF cases to less than one percent.

The occurrences of dengue in 2010 have largely been concentrated in seven Brazilian states (Acre, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rondônia, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Minas Gerais, and São Paulo), where 81 percent of all cases have been registered. With the exception of the heavily populous state of São Paulo, these states are also considered to have “high” incidences of dengue, according to Ministry of Health’s classification system, and are under close watch.

The Central West state of Mato Grosso is causing the greatest concern for health officials, as it has registered an increase of 758 percent in dengue cases compared to the same period last year.

São Paulo state, despite not having a high incidence of the disease in 2010, has registered a record number of deaths this year, with 64 confirmed deaths due to dengue fever within a three-month period.

A soldier working to contain the dengue epidemic inspects the home of Zélia Silva in Brasília, photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr.

Rio de Janeiro state had also confirmed seventeen deaths and over 13,000 suspected cases of dengue by the end of May this year, despite not being declared a state of concern by the Ministry of Health.

In its recent past, the state of Rio de Janeiro has faced its own deadly epidemics, though. In March and April of 2008, over 55,000 dengue cases were reported in Rio de Janeiro, resulting in at least 67 deaths and military intervention to spray insecticide and set up emergency care tents in the hardest hit areas.

The 2008 epidemic in Rio was blamed on the rapid increase of the unplanned and densely populated favelas. Since then, public health officials have concentrated their efforts on educating favela residents on dengue prevention. Being a disease that cannot be spread from person to person, the best way to prevent dengue is to impede the breeding of its vector, the Aedes mosquito.

Identifiable by the distinctive black and white stripes on its body, Aedes breed in stagnant water that can easily be found in any home or garden. Frequently removing such water from the premises is seen as the easiest and most effective way to curb transmission of the disease, which becomes very hard to contain once it starts spreading.

Brazilian Minister of Health José Gomes Temporão has pointed out that while Brazil will continue to live with dengue as long as there is no vaccine for the disease, previous efforts of prevention have yielded satisfactory results. In terms of dealing with the increase of dengue cases in certain states, Temporão added: “Previous results show us that perseverance, developing and perfecting our strategy is the road to follow.”

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