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Peru declares health emergency as dengue cases soar

A member of a health brigade fumigates a street against the dengue virus at a shanty town on the hills of San Juan de Lurigancho district, Lima in 2023.
A member of a health brigade fumigates a street against the dengue virus at a shanty town on the hills of San Juan de Lurigancho district, Lima in 2023. - CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP

Peru has declared a health emergency across much of the country in response to a surge in dengue fever cases.

Roughly 32,000 people have caught the virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, in the first eight weeks of the year, while 32 deaths have been recorded, said Health Minister Cesar Vasquez.

Most of the cases recorded to date have been concentrated in the country’s north, notably Puira and La Libertad, where hospitals are already overwhelmed and struggling to treat patients.

In response to the surge, likely driven by the El Niño weather phenomenon, 20 out of 25 regions in Peru have declared a health emergency.

This will enable the national government to transfer funding faster to the affected regions, as well as transporting doctors and nurses to struggling health facilities.

Mr Vasquez said this year’s El Niño – the unusual warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean that disrupts seasonal weather patterns around the globe – had driven increasingly hotter and wetter environments across Peru, allowing mosquitos to survive, breed and further spread.

“The weather has created a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes to reproduce more quickly and become a more frequent vector of the disease,” he said.

Mr Vasquez said the risk of infections was expected to further increase in the coming weeks, with a likely peak in April or May.

The incidence is highest in the coastal areas that are most vulnerable to El Niño, which has warmed the waters off eastern Peru, causing the incidence of the virus to exceed the five-year average for dengue cases.

The pathogen, spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, is nicknamed “breakbone fever” because of the severe joint pain it can cause. Other symptoms include a fever, red rash, nausea and body aches.

Last year, Peru battled its worst-ever dengue outbreak, reporting more than 20,000 weekly cases at the peak of an unprecedented wave. More than 400 people died while 270,000 were infected, the government said.

Some 400 million people are infected with dengue virus each year, according to the World Health Organisation, while at least 100 million are estimated to become ill – a steep rise from the half a million cases reported in 2000.

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