Friday, 11 April 2008

Dengue cases rising in Rio, at least 80 dead

RIO DE JANEIRO, April 10 (Reuters) - An epidemic of dengue fever has killed at least 80 people and sickened more than 75,000 in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state, authorities said on Thursday, warning that the outbreak may last another two months.

Another 79 deaths are suspected dengue cases and more than 15,000 new cases of the mosquito-borne disease were recorded in the state in the past week, the state health department said.

The tourist city of Rio de Janeiro continues to be the worst affected area with 45,000 people infected and 47 dead from the disease. Many of the victims are children living in the city's hundreds of slum areas.

A state official who did not want to be identified said the epidemic was unlikely to be contained before June, when rains ease and temperatures fall.

"The seriousness of the epidemic is because authorities had only been prepared for a small outbreak. That has affected the efficiency of the fight against mosquitoes," the official said.

Public health clinics in Rio have been overwhelmed by the worst dengue outbreak in years, forcing local authorities to call in military doctors and troops who are patrolling the streets looking for mosquito-breeding areas.

Officials and hotel operators say foreign tourists, of whom about 2 million visit the beach city every year, have so far not been scared away by the outbreak.

Portugal confirmed two dengue cases in tourists returning from Brazil this week, but the upscale Rio areas where most tourists stay have seen few cases.

"I don't think dengue is truly affecting tourism at the moment," said Lance Donald, the Australian owner of The Mango Tree hotel in the trendy Ipanema district, adding that insect repellent had sold out at nearby pharmacies.

Dengue is a viral disease spread by the small, stripe-bellied Aedes aegypti mosquito and there is no vaccine or drug to cure it. Treatment primarily involves increased fluid intake, administered orally and intravenously.

Dengue can cause high fevers, headaches, muscle and joint pain, lack of appetite and fatigue but some people can develop the potentially fatal hemorrhagic form of dengue from repeated exposure to more than one strain of the disease.


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