Dengue fever spreading in the Caribbean

Health officials across the Caribbean are concerned about the near epidemic level of mosquito-borne dengue fever, saying it could get more severe as the rainy season progresses.

The high number of cases that have caused dozens of deaths across the area are being blamed on warmer than usual weather and an unusually early rainy season, which has, in turn, caused an explosion in the mosquito population, the Associated Press reports.

Soldiers are going door-to-door in the Dominican Republic to destroy potential breeding pools and warn the public. There have been 27 deaths reported there since the outbreak began.

In Trinidad, the Associated Press reports, hospitals are running out of beds, and in Puerto Rico, it is being called the worst dengue outbreak in a decade. In the U.S. Caribbean territory, at least five have died and another 6,300 cases have been reported as of mid-July, according to the Associated Press. There were only 100 more cases reported during Puerto Rico’s worst recorded dengue outbreak in 1998. In that year, 19 people died and some 17,000 fell sick.

Fifteen more beds have been added to Trinidad’s San Fernando General Hospital and a new clinic has opened to check on those that have been released early to free more bed space. Dr. Anton Cumbrebatch, chief medical officer of the Trinidad Health Ministry, told the Associated Press that he is worried that the number of cases of the more severe hemorrhagic form of dengue will increase. The more people who are infected, the greater the chance they will develop the hemorrhagic form, he told a news conference.

The Dominican Republic is seeing a similar situation. Nurses at a children’s hospital in Santiago have demanded more resources and more personnel. Four children have died this week in Santiago, northwest of the capital city of Santo Domingo.

Senen Caba, president of the Dominican Medical Association, disputed the low numbers being reported by the Dominican Health Ministry, and claims 7,000 people have been reported sick with dengue. Caba told the Associated Press that the last time the country faced a similar epidemic was at least a decade ago.

There is also a fear that the outbreak might spread to the United States. Dengue, once thought gone from the U.S., has been suspected in a case in Miami. Though test results came back negative, a recent study showed that five percent of people living in Key West had been exposed to the disease, which can cause fever, headaches and extreme muscle pain.