Outbreak of dengue fever is a bigger health threat to some coastal provinces than Covid-19

Jun 10, 2020 | 9 comments

In addition to Covid-19, health officials on Ecuador’s coast have another worry: dengue fever. In recent weeks, they are seeing more hospital admissions for dengue than for the coronavirus as dengue cases are up 500 percent over 2019.

Municipal workers spray for dengue near Manta.

Since the beginning of year, Manabí, Los Ríos, Guayas, El Oro, Santo Domingo, Esmeraldas and Santa Elena Provinces have reported 8,188 of the country’s 10,065 dengue cases, the others occurring in Amazon provinces. “We are seeing a surge in cases for a number of reasons but mostly as a result of the coronavirus mobility restrictions,” says Ministry of Health epidemiologist Joaquín Galarza. “Because people are staying at home and not working, the breeding areas for mosquitoes, such as open water tanks and hatchery pools, have not been cleaned or treated. Besides this, some areas have experienced above average rainfall which has left standing water.”

Officially, there have been 76 deaths due to dengue in 2020 but the health ministry says the true number is probably much higher.

The worst outbreaks have been in Manabí and Esmeraldas Provinces where damage to community sewer systems from the 2016 earthquake remains largely unrepaired. “This has increased the mosquito breeding areas, promoting the spread of the virus,” says Galarza. “We urgently need the funds to make the repairs but they have not been forthcoming.”

In addition to sewer issues, provincial officials say 10 to 15 percent of the population in rural areas do not have clean drinking water. Like the sewer system, much of the potable water infrastructure was damaged by the earthquake and remains unrepaired.

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Manta has been particularly hard-hit, recording 755 dengue cases in 2020, most of them coming since April. “We have declared a dengue health emergency but the effects of the Covid restrictions make it difficult to treat the problem. In recent weeks we have increased fumigation and hope this brings the numbers down,” Galarza says.

The health ministry says that 90 percent of dengue cases in Ecuador occur at elevations below 1,000 meters. The mosquitoes carrying the disease cannot survive at elevations above 1,850 meters, or about 6,000 feet.

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