January 18, 2006

Brazil’s Rio fears dengue epidemic as cases rise

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) - An outbreak of dengue
fever in Brazil's tourist mecca of Rio de Janeiro has prompted
the authorities to step up prevention measures, fearing a
repeat of a 2002 epidemic that killed more than 100 people,
officials said on Wednesday.

"We have flare-ups in two districts. It needs to be blocked
urgently, because without such control we have a risk of having
an epidemic again in Rio," Aloisio Ribeiro, head of Rio state
government's Epidemiology Vigilance Center, told Reuters.

Dengue, or Aedes Aegypti, is carried by mosquitoes and
causes severe body pain, fever and headaches. Larvae breed in
stagnant waters, in anywhere from abandoned swimming pools to
flower pots and car tires left in the open air.

State and municipal authorities will launch a task force on
Thursday to combat the disease with vehicle-mounted insecticide
sprayers and inspections of private homes and courtyards.
Hundreds of workers will be sent to find and destroy larvae
that breed in stagnant water.

One of the affected districts is upscale oceanside Barra da
Tijuca. Barra and neighboring Jacarepagua accounted for over
250 dengue cases out of 328 registered in Rio last month, and
there were similar rates in January. December's total number of
cases was three times higher than a year earlier.

Rio is preparing to receive hundreds of thousands of
tourists for its famed annual Carnival in February.

Ribeiro complained that municipal authorities had relaxed
their anti-dengue effort in the three years without major
outbreaks and rejected their explanation that the disease had
been brought from Brazil's northeast by poor slum dwellers.

"The problem is that there are plenty of mosquitoes, that
Rio is an endemic area and there has not been enough effort to
prevent dengue," he said, adding that the overall number of
cases in the state was still around last year's levels.

Because the disease is common within the region, its
residents are more likely to contract more than one of dengue's
four strains, increasing the chance of a potentially deadly
hemorrhagic form of the disease.

A total of 134 Brazilians died from that in 2002, with
nearly 80 percent of the deaths in Rio state. Nearly 740,000
people contracted dengue across the country that year.