Latin America battles two epidemics
The arrival of COVID-19 has created tremors across several nations in the world, the pandemic is stretching the limits of healthcare systems around the world, however, Latin America along with the COVID-19 pandemic faces another deadly viral infection that has been quietly stalking the region. Dengue has been a prevalent endemic in several countries in Latin America from late 2018, however, since the arrival of COVID-19, much attention and resources have been rechanneled from fighting Dengue to COVID-19, according to a report by Reuters Health.
The dengue epidemic that started in late 2018 in Latin America has not completely contained until today. “Dengue infections in the Americas surged to an all-time high of 3.1 million in 2019, with over 1,500 deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Reuters Health reports. According to the report, The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) predicts a spike in the rate of dengue infection for the year 2020 and expresses concerns on the availability of intensive care units with the continent struck by a combination of Dengue and COVID-19.
The Dengue outbreaks are typically transmitted by mosquitoes and occur three to five years after the previous epidemic. The report suggests that the circulation of four strains of Dengue, implying the chance for reinfection and the preceding cases likely to become more serve. “COVID is the star right now, so all of the attention is being put on COVID, but there are still problems with dengue,” reported Doctor Jaime Gomez, who works at a hospital in Floridablanca (Colombia’s Santander province) to Reuters Health.
The infection is generally not fatal and is treated with painkillers, however, in some cases, it causes fatigue and weight loss. However, severe cases are treated with intravenous fluids and early detection is prime to avert the risk of dangerous complications. Therefore, treating severe cases require testing patients and providing the required treatment in a clinical setting. Meanwhile, healthcare institutions are worried about patients contracting the COVID-19 infection, and in alternate scenarios hospitals that are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases are having to turn these patients away. Gomez reported to Reuters Health, that his clinic had witnessed a fall in hospitalizations (by half), as people were fearful of venturing outdoors.
Latin America witnesses cases of patients that are avoiding to seek the required medical attention due to fear of exposure to CVOID-19. One such instance is a Paraguayan lawyer Sonia Fernandez avoided seeking care when she and her two daughters were infected with dengue (all three have recovered). “All three of us had dengue, we had all the symptoms, the pain, the rash, but we didn’t go to a clinic or a health center so as not to expose ourselves (to COVID-19),” Fernandez reported to Reuters Health.
According to the report, The Dengue cases in Paraguay have exploded this year with total confirmed cases amounting to 42710 and 64 deaths. Meanwhile, Ecuador currently experiences a surge of COVID-19 cases with healthcare institutions being completely overwhelmed. As per the Ecuador health ministry, dengue cases had peaked at 888 dengue cases in the second week of March, and subsequently witnessed a decline in the number of cases (257). “Very clearly dengue is being under-reported,” reported Esteban Ortiz (global health researcher) at Quito’s University of the Americas to Reuters Health. “Cases haven’t decreased, the diagnosis of cases has decreased, which confirms the system has totally collapsed,” he added.
Other parts of Central America also experience a rise in Dengue infection and countries like Costa Rica and Panama have also expressed their concerns about fighting two epidemics at the same time. “We are going through a difficult moment dealing with COVID-19 but unfortunately other diseases continue their cycle,” Rodrigo Marin, director of Costa Rica’s health surveillance agency, recently told journalists. Panama City health official Yamileth Lopez expressed her concerns on the rising trend for dengue in an interview with Reuters Health. “Dengue kills too,” she said.
A similar trend is expected to surface in other parts of the world (with other infectious diseases). This calls for strategic planning by the public health authorities in coordination with the local healthcare institutions to best deal with such scenarios. One approach that can be considered to tackle such scenarios is the integration of telemedicine and artificial intelligence into the healthcare system, that will support the healthcare system and enable it to have a broader reach to individuals who seek medical attention.
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