RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With dengue fever on the rise, 2019 recorded the second-highest number of deaths from the disease since 1998, the year in which the historical series began. Data from the Ministry of Health show that by December 7th, 754 dengue-related deaths had been confirmed.
In practice, the total is only below that recorded in 2015, the year of the worst epidemics of the disease, with 986 deaths.
However, the figure may still grow, since the balance report does not account for the full year. By January 7th, there were also 221 suspected deaths from the disease still under investigation.
The data evidence the impact of the new advance of dengue fever that occurred in 2019, after two years with low numbers of recorded cases.
In all, from January through early December, the ministry counted 1,527,119 likely cases of the disease.
It is the second-highest figure since these cases began to be recorded in 1990. The comparison of the total number of cases was reported by the newspaper O Globo.
The figure further represents an increase of 517 percent compared to 2018, when only 247,393 suspected cases were recorded. The low number of cases that year had been expected due to the accumulation of two years of the epidemic, in 2015 and 2016.
In regard to 2019, specialists have linked the new high with the increase in the circulation of dengue’s serotype 2, which had not occurred with such force since 2008. The change ends up increasing the chance of people susceptible to the virus. Before, serotype 1 was the type recording the highest circulation in the country – there are four possible serotypes.
According to the Ministry’s dengue program coordinator, Rodrigo Said, the change in the predominant serotype by late 2018, adding to climatic factors and its reach into highly populated areas, helps to explain the high number of cases.
“We had a very intense summer in 2019, with high temperatures, which favors the reproduction of the mosquito and the occurrence of epidemics,” he says. “We also had a change in the serotype. If we look at the historical series, every time there’s this change, there’s an increase in cases”.
The high number of deaths may be related, in addition to the new advance of the disease, to records that suggest the possibility of greater occurrence of more serious cases with serotype 2, he says.
Alert for 2020
With the second-highest number of cases in the historical series, the Ministry of Health classifies the 2019 scenario as a “concentrated epidemic” in some regions.
This is because, out of a total of 1.5 million cases, 65 percent occurred in the states of São Paulo, Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais.
In Said’s opinion, while suggesting a concentration of cases, the situation ultimately calls for an alert also for the year 2020.
“When we say that the epidemic was more concentrated in the Southeast and Center-West, this points to the need for caution this year, particularly in the North and Northeast,” he says.
“Our concern is to monitor a change in the serotype in these regions,” he says about areas where serotype 2 is not yet the predominant one in circulation.
Furthermore, the higher occurrence of the disease in some areas within the states suggests that even São Paulo and Minas Gerais may still see a new advance of the disease. “There are regions in São Paulo that were not greatly impacted in 2019,” he says.