Dengue prevention efforts stifled by coronavirus pandemic

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People move away as health workers fumigate a slum to prevent an outbreak of dengue fever in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday, March 23, 2020. While 2019 was the worst year on record for global dengue cases, experts fear an even bigger surge is possible because their efforts to combat it were hampered by restrictions imposed in the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

JAKARTA – To slow the spread of the coronavirus, governments issued lockdowns to keep people at home. They curtailed activities that affected services like trash collection. They tried to shield hospitals from a surge of patients.

But the cascading effects of these restrictions also are hampering efforts to cope with seasonal outbreaks of dengue, an incurable, mosquito-borne disease that is also known as “breakbone fever" for its severely painful symptoms.

Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia have dealt with concurrent outbreaks of dengue and coronavirus this year. In Brazil, where there are over 1.6 million COVID-19 infections, at least 1.1 million cases of dengue have been reported, with nearly 400 deaths, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

Dengue cases are likely to rise soon with the start of seasonal rains in Latin American countries like Cuba, Chile and Costa Rica, as well as the South Asian countries of India and Pakistan.

Dengue typically isn’t fatal, but severe cases may require hospitalization. Prevention efforts targeted at destroying mosquito-breeding sites, like removing trash or old tires and other objects containing standing water, are still the best ways to curb the spread of the disease. But coronavirus-era lockdowns and other restrictions have meant that these efforts have been reduced or stopped altogether in many countries.

In northwestern Pakistan, plans to disinfect tire shops and markets that had dengue outbreaks in 2019 were shelved due to funds being used for the coronavirus, said Dr. Rizwan Kundi, head of the Young Doctor’s Association.

Health workers who would destroy mosquito-breeding sites in India’s capital of New Delhi are also screening people for the virus.

Having to identify thousands of virus cases has meant that dengue surveillance has suffered in many Latin American countries, added Dr. Maria Franca Tallarico, the head of health for the Americas regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.