Bolivia’s Dengue Epidemic May Affect 50,000, Head Doctor Says
February 5, 2009 -

By Jonathan J. Levin

Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Bolivia’s doctors are going house to house in tropical regions of the country checking for dengue fever as the number of suspected cases climbed to about 9,000 and a health official warned more than five times more may be infected.

“There could be as many as 50,000 cases by March or April if we can’t take control of the epidemic,” Juan Carlos Arraya, head of the ministry’s epidemiology department, said in a telephone interview.

Dengue fever is transmitted in tropical regions through mosquito bites, and is potentially lethal if the victim is bitten a second time, causing dengue hemorrhagic fever. The Health Ministry said in a report yesterday it has registered 19 suspected cases of the lethal version.

The Bolivian army dispatched troops to help in fumigation efforts, and some local governments are fining residents for failing to meet cleanliness standards, according to Arraya.

The epidemiologist said the government of President Evo Morales was working with neighboring Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to fight the disease, which “has no borders.”

“This is the worst dengue outbreak in Bolivia in many years,” Health Ministry spokesman Ener Chavez said in an interview at his La Paz office. “The only way to beat this disease is with prevention.”

Small outbreaks of the virus occur every year in Bolivia during the raining season, November through March. This year’s outbreak is already 18 times worse than last year’s, when the Health Ministry registered about 500 cases of dengue, Arraya said.

Health Minister Ramiro Tapia said Jan. 20 that there were about 1,000 suspected infections, meaning the number of cases on record had jumped about 900 percent in two weeks, according to Cochabamba-based newspaper Los Tiempos.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan J. Levin in La Paz at