Paraguay, north Argentina and Brazil are in dengue alert following the confirmation of over 200.000 cases of the mosquito transmitted viral disease so far this year. The situation is considered worst that in previous years because besides a deep rise in the confirmed cases, the circulation of the four sero-types (strains) of dengue (1, 2, 3 and 4) has been detected, which means the disease keeps expanding.
Paraguay has admitted 14.987 confirmed cases and at least 17 deaths in the first two months of the year with the tendency to increase. The situation is similar in Argentina particularly in the northern provinces of Salta, Jujuy, Cordoba, Santa Fe, Chaco and Formosa, plus the confirmation of the four serotypes. There are no official figures in Argentina since local officials are reluctant to release them fearing a panic situation.
Brazilian figures suggest that more than 200.000 people were infected in the first seven weeks of 2013 compared to 70,000 in the same period last year with the southern state of Matto Grosso do Sul the hardest hit.
Officials said the cases were likely to increase as the rainy season advances the risk of reproduction of the mosquito which transmits the disease, Aedes Aegypti.
However Brazilian Health Minister Alexandre Padilha revealed that despite the higher incidence, the cases had been less severe than those recorded last year. He said 33 people had died from the flu-like disease in the first seven weeks of 2013 compared to 41 last year.
According to Mr Padilha, these figures showed that the authorities were following the right strategies in their fight against the fever. He said extra training given to health care professionals and improvements to the network of basic care providers had clearly paid off.
But Mr Padilha warned state authorities not to let down their guard as the rainy season could exacerbate the situation, with standing water providing an ideal breeding ground for the mosquitoes carrying the disease.
Apart from Mato Grosso do Sul, seven other states across southern and central Brazil have been affected by the epidemic. More than half of the cases have been caused by the Den-4 strain of the virus, which was first detected in Brazil in 2011.
Mr Padilha said that because the strain was still relatively new to the country, more people were susceptible to infection. There are four known types of dengue fever (strain). Once people are infected by one type, they become immune to that variation, but not to other strains.
Dengue causes a flu-like illness, occasionally lethal and is the leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian and Latin American countries. There is not specific treatment, but early detection, medical care reduces fatality rates of dengue/severe dengue to below 1%.
The disease is spread in tropical and sub-tropical climates, mostly urban and semi-urban areas. The global incidence has grown dramatically and now about half the of the world's population is now at risk.