Sao Paulo, Brazil
The city of Rio de Janeiro declared a public health emergency due to the dengue epidemic, just days before Carnival celebrations kick off across Brazil.
City Mayor Eduardo Paes announced the move on Monday, according to CNN affiliate CNN Brasil, in an effort to contain the spread of the mosquito-borne disease, which causes flu-like symptoms and can lead to death in extreme cases.
The spike in dengue cases has added urgency to a planned nationwide vaccination campaign and comes as Rio prepares for its world-famous Carnival, which officially begins on Friday. Pre-Lent celebrations take place across Brazil, with colorful parades and block parties in Rio famous for being among the largest in the world with millions of revelers spilling into the streets.
This year, Rio has already recorded more than 11,200 cases of dengue, according to the city council’s epidemiological monitoring committee, compared with about 23,000 cases for the whole of 2023.
In January alone, 362 people were hospitalized in Rio due to dengue fever — a record number that surpasses the previous record set in 2008, CNN Brasil reported.
“In one month of 2024, we already have almost half of the cases recorded in the entire previous year, which has raised serious concerns,” Daniel Sorans, Rio’s municipal health minister, said last Friday.
To limit the spread of the disease, the city said it would open 10 care centers across Rio and the Health Ministry set up an emergency center to coordinate operations, Reuters reported.
Rio is one of three states that have declared a public health emergency due to a rise in dengue cases, including Minas Gerais, the second most populous state, and the federal district where the capital, Brasilia, is located, according to Reuters.
In the first five weeks of the year, nearly 365,000 cases of dengue fever were reported across the country, four times as many as in the same period last year, Reuters reported, citing the Ministry of Health. The ministry said that forty deaths had been confirmed.
“Many Brazilian cities are facing a state of emergency due to the significant increase in dengue cases,” Brazilian Health Minister Nicia Trindade said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Record temperatures and above-average rainfall since last year have increased outbreaks of mosquito-borne mosquitoes… This is the time to step up care and prevention. Now is the time for all of Brazil to unite against dengue.”
Dengue is a viral infection transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same insect responsible for the spread of Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.
It causes severe headache, muscle and joint pain, fever and rash, although only 25% of those infected show symptoms. Extreme cases can lead to bleeding, shock, organ failure, and possibly death.
Dengue fever is the most common virus transmitted by mosquitoes, infecting millions of people worldwide each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although there is no specific treatment for this disease, Brazil plans to launch a large-scale vaccination campaign against dengue fever.
Brazil approved the vaccine in March 2023, and became the first country to introduce the dengue vaccine into the public health system, according to the Ministry of Health.
The ministry’s plan is to vaccinate 3.2 million people in 2024, starting with children aged 10 to 14, with the Qdenga vaccine from Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda.
“Vaccination will take place gradually, given the limited number of doses produced by the manufacturing laboratory,” Nisia said in a statement. “At the same time, the Ministry of Health will coordinate a national effort to expand production and access to dengue vaccines.”
Reuters reported that Brasilia will begin vaccinations early Friday.
Rio’s municipal health department said it also plans to vaccinate children once the Health Ministry releases doses, CNN Brasil reported.
Clinical trials showed the vaccine reduced the risk of severe dengue fever requiring hospitalization by 80-90%, according to an article published in The Lancet last month.
Speaking in Brasilia The current dengue outbreak in Brazil is “fueled by El Niño,” a natural weather pattern that originates in the Pacific Ocean and influences global weather, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday. The current El Niño has become one of the strongest on record, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center.
“In fact, this dengue outbreak is part of a global surge in dengue with more than 5 million cases and 5,000 cases reported last year in 80 countries in every region of the world, with the exception of Europe,” Tedros said.
Of those five million cases reported globally, nearly three million were in Brazil, according to World Health Organization data.
The global number of dengue cases has increased eightfold in the past two decades, according to the World Health Organization, due to rising temperatures and longer rainy seasons.
As the human-caused climate crisis worsens, mosquito-borne diseases are likely to become more widespread and have an increasing impact on human health.
This story has been updated with additional developments. Additional reporting from Reuters.