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Health officials issue warning as mosquito-borne disease outbreak overwhelms hospitals: 'Emergency situation'

While the available vaccine won't help interrupt outbreaks immediately, it can help to reduce health complications and deaths.

While the available vaccine won't help interrupt outbreaks immediately, it can help to reduce health complications and deaths.

Photo Credit: iStock

Rising cases of a mosquito-borne illness in South America are leading to an "emergency situation," according to one health official, with fears it will soon become more common in North America.

What's happening?

As CNN detailed, the Pan American Health Organization reported that 5.2 million cases of dengue had been reported by mid-April, topping a yearly record that was set in 2023.

PAHO director Jarbas Barbosa gave the "emergency situation" warning about the troubling figures. While South American countries have taken the brunt of the infections, the changing of the seasons and warmer weather will bring increased risk to North America.

"Most cases in the southern hemisphere occur in the first half of the year, and most cases in the northern hemisphere occur in the second half of the year," said PAHO spokesperson Ashley Baldwin. "So far, this year, we have seen cases peak in the south, and we would now expect an increase in cases in the north."

Brazil declared a state of emergency in February amid surging dengue cases, while Peru has put 20 of its 25 regions under a health alert.

The 1,858 deaths from dengue reported by mid-April are already closing in on the 2,418 total seen in 2023.

Why is this so concerning?

With global temperatures on the rise because of human-caused pollution, the conditions for mosquito breeding are becoming favorable earlier and for longer. 

In addition to dengue, other mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika, yellow fever, and chikungunya are a concern, too.

In Peru, dengue cases are overwhelming hospitals, with CNN reporting over 2,000 patients have been treated for the illness in 2024, compared to the 900 admitted to hospitals in the whole of 2023.

What can be done about the risk of dengue?

Barbosa noted that a vaccine is available for dengue. While it won't help interrupt outbreaks immediately, it can help to reduce health complications and deaths.

Elsewhere, the PAHO has called for a surveillance strategy to track the spread of the disease, as well as measures to control the mosquito vector that leads to virus transmission and to improve health care services' capacity to handle the rising cases. 

But Baldwin noted that most cases of dengue are mild, and early detection can help to reduce the risk of the disease leading to severe cases.

Meanwhile, curbing the rise of temperature worldwide will help to limit the capability of mosquitoes to breed. The insects lay their eggs in warm water, and if conditions allow for a longer breeding cycle, their presence will be prolonged throughout the year.

Reducing the pollution we produce on a daily basis is essential, and while it might seem like we can't do much individually, collective voices can make a big impact.

Voting for pro-climate candidates, for example, will help with the introduction of laws and policies to limit the release of planet-warming gases. 

Taking action locally can also encourage community efforts to take planet-positive actions, such as introducing better public transport options, increasing recycling potential, and starting solar power generation schemes — which can also help local residents save money on energy bills. 

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