Connect to share and comment

A rise in dengue fever

Dengue fever has plagued Argentina this year.

It’s true that the recent resurgence of dengue in Argentina leaked from bordering states, which have had much larger epidemics — Brazil saw hundreds of thousands of cases in its worst outbreak ever last year. And it’s also true that Argentina’s tens of thousands of dengue cases are a drop in the Americas’ bucket of more than 1 million a year, and the 50 million annual cases worldwide.

But Argentina’s share in this and other diseases has been growing in recent years, and now some of the country’s health indicators are worse than those of its neighbors, Llovet said. He cited chagas, a parasite that has been all but eradicated in Brazil, where it was first discovered, but still persists in Argentina and infects about 10 million people in the hemisphere.

Like chagas and many other infectious diseases, dengue is strongly associated with conditions of poverty — a stigma that might be another impediment to its acceptance as a fact of Argentine life. Because dengue-carrying mosquitos breed in standing water, the disease disproportionately affects poor communities without plumbing on the outskirts of cities.

There have been a few cases of more illustrious dengue victims — an ex-governor, for example, was the first person known to have contracted the disease in his province during this outbreak. But these are the exception rather than the rule.

In Chaco, the province that accounts for half of Argentina's dengue cases, then-Health Minister Sandra Mendoza recently pronounced that dengue "doesn't distinguish between social class, religion or political parties,” and she indignantly dismissed as a political attack the allegation that she herself was infected. In an epic 13-hour legislative hearing on that allegation and questions about whether she had taken enough action on the outbreak, Mendoza declared that “the responsibility for dengue lies with the mosquito.” She has since resigned under fire.

Dengue panic and polemics were muffled by fears over swine flu at the end of April. But a few weeks into that outbreak, Mexican president Felipe Calderon revived dengue-related politics when he criticized Argentina's efforts at disease prevention. He made the jab as he was bristling at an Argentine ban on flights from Mexico, a measure that a handful of Latin American countries adopted against the advice of the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

Meanwhile, politicians and commentators — from Argentina’s Mexico ambassador to Foreign Policy Magazine — maintained that Argentina is sicker from dengue than Mexico is from the flu. That might still be true (by 40 to one) in terms of the number of reported infections, but Mexico seems to have had a much higher mortality rate during its outbreak.

And while the future of swine flu is unclear, dengue fever in Argentina is winding down — for this year, anyway. Experts say that without rigorous intervention by the Argentine government, dengue outbreaks will become more widespread and more deadly in the future.

Read more about health:

Don't kiss me, I'm Mexican

River blindness persists in Africa

Changing the face of AIDS in Zimbabwe