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Central America faces dangerous combination of coronavirus and dengue

April 29, 2020

Central America could face a crisis due to the rising cases of dengue, which increase in the now-beginning rainy season, while health systems remain on alert for the coronavirus.

The region has so far in 2020 recorded more than 23,000 dengue cases and at least 22 deaths. Last year, the same disease left 255 dead and nearly 192,000 infected.

Meanwhile, COVID-19, which has plagued the entire world, registers more than 8,300 infections and 260 deaths in Central American countries — mostly in Panama, with more than 6,000 cases.

Honduras also shows a high fatality rate for the new coronavirus, with more than 60 deaths in at least 700 known cases.

Most Central American countries have taken drastic measures to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, with actions that include quarantines and border closures.

Honduras has registered this year about 11,000 hospitalizations and nine deaths due to dengue. That country is the most-affected on the isthmus by the disease spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which in 2019 left 180 dead.

Last year, at least 30 public hospitals in Honduras collapsed due to the saturation of dengue patients alone.

Region under alert

“The incidence of dengue has decreased, but we always remain in the alarm zone,” Valeska Mejía, chief of nursing at the Roberto Suazo Córdova hospital in the community of La Paz, 40 km north of Tegucigalpa, told AFP.

That 124-bed hospital had to open the chapel and corridors to house dengue inmates last year. The disease causes fever, nausea, skin rash, general weakness, muscle aches and headaches.

In its hemorrhagic version, it can be fatal.

With a population of 46,000 inhabitants, the community of La Paz has confirmed two people infected with the new coronavirus, but they have not required hospitalization.

This year, El Salvador already registers six deaths from dengue in almost 3,900 cases, while 2019 closed with 14 deaths and 6,000 hospitalized.

Last year, 40 people died in Guatemala across the 50,600 reported cases of dengue. So far in 2020, five patients have died in 3,300 affected.

Costa Rica has announced a total of 1,760 dengue cases so far in 2020, against 9,400 last year. Panama has two deaths and 2,300 infected this year, compared to five deaths and 9,200 cases in 2019.

Health authorities of Central America are asking citizens to eliminate accumulations of standing water in abandoned buckets, cans, bottles, vases or tires, which may become breeding grounds for the mosquito vector of the disease.

In “places where it warrants,” fumigation is carried out to eliminate the mosquito, Ana Lucía Gudiel, spokeswoman for Guatemala’s Ministry of Health, told AFP.

The coronavirus pandemic

“Let’s not lower our guard against dengue, although the coronavirus is affecting us and is having an impact on the population. Let’s take advantage of these quarantine periods to continuously clean our homes,” urged Gustavo Urbina, a technician at the surveillance unit of the Ministry of Health in Honduras.

Central American residents have been subjected to social isolation measures imposed by governments to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, in the context of health systems that, even before the pandemic, are often close to saturation.

Governments ran to build hospitals, as in the case of El Salvador, or to improvise care rooms in buildings and sports centers in other nations.

“We are in a difficult moment where the country faces COVID-19, but unfortunately the other diseases continue their cycle,” said Rodrigo Marín, director of the Costa Rican Health Surveillance. “That is why we call on the population to help us in their homes with the elimination of [mosquito] breeding grounds.”

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