Drought-stricken São Paulo battles mosquitoes and dengue fever outbreak – ‘It’s worrying now because it’s hard to control how people store water’Posted by Jim at Wednesday, March 04, 2015
By Rogerio Jelmayer and Loretta Chao
3 March 2015
SÃO PAULO, Brazil (Wall Street Journal) – Inhabitants of this megacity, suffering through the worst drought in decades, have unwittingly contributed to an outbreak of dengue fever by storing scarce water in open containers.
The tropical mosquito-borne virus, which often results in high fever, intense muscle pain and convulsions, has killed at least 17 people in São Paulo state in the first six weeks of 2015. That’s up from just three deaths through mid-February of 2014, according to national health officials. Suspected cases have surged tenfold to 51,849 over the same period.
Dengue is a persistent problem in Brazil, particularly during the peak of the rainy season, which is January and February in the nation’s populous southeast. But health officials blame human behavior for this year’s surge. While drought-ravaged São Paulo has yet to declare official water rationing, the main water utility has reduced pressure in the pipes to force conservation, a strategy that has cut off running water to millions of customers for hours, even days at a stretch. Residents have responded by hoarding water in open buckets, watering cans and other makeshift containers. Paradoxically, they’ve created a water-borne paradise for mosquitoes to breed in the midst of an epic drought.
“It’s worrying now because it’s hard to control how people store water,” said Jose Gomes Temporao, former health minister and executive director of South American Institute of Government in Health. “This creates a risk not just for dengue but for chikungunya,” another mosquito-borne virus that cause fever, rashes and joint pains that can last for months, even years.
The outbreak has sparked panic in the city of São Paulo, where 563 cases of the disease have been confirmed through mid-February, a 163% increase from the same period a year ago. Health officials have dispatched some 2,500 agents to go door-to-door and educate residents on prevention measures, such as filling potted plants with sand, keeping containers dry and swimming pools covered. [more]