By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The approach of summer in Rio de Janeiro is known to bring an increased risk of dengue fever. Early 2011 remained dangerous, with 5,500 cases reported in Zona Sul (South Zone) alone, and now the Municipal Secretary of Health and Civil Defense is stepping up preventative campaigns to battle an epidemic in 2012.
The disease, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is caused by four distinct but related viruses. In moderate cases dengue causes high fever, joint pain, and rashes, but the more serious dengue haemorrhagic fever can lead to circulatory failure and death.
Rio state Secretary of Health Sérgio Côrtes admitted on Monday that Rio de Janeiro faces a new dengue epidemic. Since the beginning of 2011 there were 160,000 cases of dengue fever and 131 deaths in the state.
Earlier in the week, O Globo reported that of the 92 municipalities of Rio, 71 did not prepare enough to prevent a possible epidemic of dengue fever in the months approaching summer. A survey of the state Department of Health shows that only 21 municipalities (about 23 percent of municipalities in the state) met the items agreed upon.
In September, government media reports indicated a total of 67,535 cases of dengue registered in the city of Rio de Janeiro this year, with 43 deaths. April was the worst month with 24,000 cases. Mayor Eduardo Paes, declared a state of alert and ordered a preventive action plan to deal with the possible epidemic.
The city reports now having over 3,000 personnel who work as so-called ‘dengue agents,’ visiting residences and businesses to seek out possible breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Officials also point out they are cracking down on inhabitants who do not want to be inspected by dengue agents.
Legislation now makes it mandatory for households and businesses to allow inspections. Local authorities can levy heavy fines on anyone who refuses to cooperate.
The city also has some forty specially adapted vehicles that will be used to spray streets and areas of difficult access. At the same time, 4,000 health assistants are being trained for rapid response diagnoses and treatment at some thirty dengue first-aid stations.
Although dengue has no vaccine or cure, there are many ways to lower the risk of infection. Rio Contra Dengue, a site created by the government to raise awareness in the state of Rio de Janeiro, advises that now is the best time to start taking precautionary measures, as the number of cases increases by summer.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so Rio Contra Dengue recommends keeping water tanks and garbage containers tightly closed, clearing debris from roofs to allow proper drainage, and scattering sand on areas that collect moisture, like the dishes under potted plants.
On an individual level, preventing dengue means wearing insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon or eucalyptus, or IR3535, wearing long pants (not always an appealing option as temperatures rise in Rio), and sleeping under a mosquito net. Travelers are advised to stay in hotels or hostels that are air conditioned or well screened, and periodically sprayed with insecticide.