New study can predict next Costa Rica dengue fever outbreak

June 12, 2009

Scientists have developed a model to predict the next outbreak of dengue fever in Costa Rica.

Using a combination of ocean temperatures and vegetation measures, their research can detect when and where dengue fever will arise up to 40 weeks in advance.

Because the mosquito that carries the virus requires a very specific climate, by identifying when such climatic conditions will arise, scientists can pinpoint at-risk areas.

“With this knowledge, (health officials) can potentially take extra precautionary measures in getting the message out there to use more bug spray, don´t let water stand, wear more protective clothes, etc.” said Douglas Fuller, University of Miami associate professor and the study´s co-author.

Though his team of researchers has not projected out to 2009 and 2010, Fuller is hoping their initial research will help them find the funding and support to do so. Eventually, he hopes to conduct similar studies in Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

“(Dengue fever) has become a raging problem,” said Fuller. “The number of cases is out of control in many parts of Latin America, especially Brazil. Even with our predictions, this is a multifaceted problem and it´s going to take many years to solve.”

Dengue fever cases have surged in recent years, and are only recently beginning to level out as health officials become more aware of prevention measures.

According to numbers recently released in May by the Health Ministry, the number of dengue fever cases in Costa Rica dropped by 46.7 percent in the first 17 weeks of this year (compared to 2008), which health officials attributed to “prevention and control actions” (TT Daily News, May 13).

Most of the cases this year have been located in the central Pacific region (668), followed by the Caribbean province of Limón (161) and the northwestern Nicoya peninsula (99).

Though often lumped together as two mosquito-borne diseases found in tropical areas, dengue fever and malaria are very different in terms of symptoms and in the ways they are spread.

Because malaria-carrying mosquitoes are most active at night, precautionary measures include bed netting and medication. Dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes are active during the day and more often found in urban areas. T he disease´s transmission can be prevented with bug spray and a layering of clothes, but – unlike malaria – there is no preventive pill.

Symptoms for dengue include a severe headache, muscle and joint pains, fever and a bright red rash. Malaria is characterized by fever, chills and nausea.

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