Nurses care for patients at the dengue emergency medical center in Rio de Janeiro on February 6.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Just days before Carnival celebrations are set to take place across Brazil, Rio de Janeiro has declared a public health emergency due to a dengue fever outbreak.
The city’s mayor, Eduardo Pace, announced the move on Monday to curb the spread of the mosquito-borne disease, which causes flu-like symptoms and can lead to death in extreme cases, CNN affiliate CNN Brasil reported.
A surge in dengue cases has added urgency to a planned nationwide vaccination campaign, while Rio de Janeiro prepares for the official opening of its world-famous Carnival on Friday. Pre-Lenten celebrations take place across Brazil, with Rio’s colorful parades and block parties dubbed one of the world’s biggest, with millions of revelers taking to the streets.
Rio de Janeiro has registered more than 11,200 dengue cases this year, with the number for all of 2023 approaching 23,000, according to the city council’s epidemiological observation group.
According to CNN Brazil, 362 people were hospitalized with dengue fever in Rio de Janeiro in January alone, surpassing the highest record since 2008.
“In one month of 2024 we have almost half the number of cases we had in all of last year, which is a cause for great concern,” Rio city health director Daniel Solanz said on Friday.
To curb further spread of the disease, the city said it would open 10 care centers across Rio, and the Ministry of Health had set up an emergency center to coordinate operations, Reuters reported.
Rio de Janeiro is one of three states to declare a public health emergency due to a rise in dengue infections, including Minas Gerais, the second most populous state, and the federal district where the capital Brasilia is located, Reuters reported.
Reuters quoted the Ministry of Health as saying that in the first five weeks of this year, nearly 365,000 dengue infections were reported across the country, four times the number in the same period last year. According to reports, the ministry said 40 people had been confirmed dead.
“Several Brazilian cities are facing an emergency due to a significant increase in dengue fever cases,” Brazilian Health Minister Nicia Trindade said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Record high temperatures and above-average rainfall since last year have increased outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases… Now is the time to step up care and prevention. Now is the time for all of Brazil to unite in the fight against dengue fever.”
Dengue fever is a viral infection spread through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same insect that transmits Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.
It causes severe headaches, muscle and joint pain, fever and rash, but only 25% of people infected show symptoms. Extreme cases can lead to bleeding, shock, organ failure, and possibly death.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dengue fever is the most common virus spread by mosquitoes and infects millions of people around the world each year.
While there is no specific treatment for the disease, Brazil plans a mass vaccination campaign against dengue fever.
Brazil approved the vaccine in March 2023, becoming the first country to make dengue vaccines available in the public health system, according to the health ministry.
The health ministry’s plan is to vaccinate 3.2 million people with the Qdenga vaccine produced by Japanese drugmaker Takeda by 2024, starting with children aged 10 to 14.
“Given the limited quantity of vaccine produced in manufacturing laboratories, vaccination will be carried out gradually,” Nisya said in a statement. “At the same time, the Ministry of Health will coordinate nationwide efforts to expand dengue vaccine production and access.”
Vaccinations could begin in Brasilia as early as Friday, Reuters reported.
Rio’s City Health Department said they also plan to vaccinate children as soon as the Ministry of Health releases a vaccine, Brazil’s CNN reported.
Clinical trials showed the vaccine could reduce the risk of severe dengue requiring hospitalization by 80-90%, according to an article published in The Lancet last month.
Speech in Brasilia World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that Brazil’s current dengue fever epidemic is “exacerbated by El Niño,” a natural weather pattern that originates in the Pacific and affects global weather. The current El Niño has become one of the strongest on record, according to the latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
“In fact, this dengue outbreak is part of a global dengue surge, with more than 5 million dengue cases and 5,000 dengue cases reported in 80 countries in every region of the world (except Europe) last year,” Tedros said.
According to the World Health Organization, of the 5 million cases reported globally, nearly 3 million have occurred in Brazil.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of dengue cases has increased eightfold globally over the past two decades due to rising temperatures and longer rainy seasons.
As the human-caused climate crisis intensifies, mosquito-borne diseases are likely to spread further and have a greater impact on human health.
This story has been updated with additional developments. Additional reporting by Reuters.