In the first two months of the year, Guanacaste doubled the number of Dengue cases compared to the same period last year.
In any other moment, the situation would be less concerning for the Healthcare authorities, but today the fight is double because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A significant outbreak of Dengue could increase the number of people reaching healthcare services and, naturally, handling two diseases at once is complex“, said the Healthcare Surveillance Director of the Ministry of Health, Rodrigo Marín.
In January and February 2019, authorities counted 52 people infected with dengue, but this year the total number of cases reached 109 in the Chorotega region. This was confirmed by the most recent data from the Health Ministry, which have been separated by province and analyzed by La Voz de Guanacaste.
An increase in cases is also reported in the rest of the country. Nationwide, the number of people with dengue has increased from 1,200 as of May 23, 2019 to 3,066 during the same period in 2020.
According to Marín, the risk for the country and the region is that the number of cases will continue to increase, as clinics and hospitals will eventually become overcrowded.
“Dengue can perfectly well collapse healthcare services if it is not given the proper treatment”, the official added.
The specialist says that a person with dengue requires a follow-up every two or three days so that his/her condition does not become complicated but rather improves. Between a pandemic and a new outbreak, the healthcare team may become short-handed.
Authorities are also concerned that the symptoms of dengue may be confused with those of COVID-19, such as fever, which also results in increased patient visits to healthcare services.
“To distinguish between dengue and COVID is complex in the field when the COVID has no respiratory symptoms, so you have to practically take the same precautions that you do for other diseases”, Marin said.
As of today, Guanacaste registers a maximum of active cases for COVID-19. Both viruses converge strongly in Abangares, the third canton in the province with the highest number of active cases for COVID-19 (20 cases as of June 11), and the first nationwide with the highest rate of dengue cases so far this year (226 cases for every 10.000 people).
However, Costa Rica has historically known how to contain dengue: in 27 years (the first year of recorded cases of dengue in the country was 1993), Healthcare only counts 23 deaths from the virus caused by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.
Besides, every year the country reports fewer cases, but it always reports a significant increase in the number of cases like the current one. Another element to consider is that less than 1% of the people who contract dengue are classified as “serious cases”.
But to keep those numbers, to save those people [with Dengue virus] you have to take care of them and that’s where the health services collapse. The idea is that these people don’t get to health services“, Marin said.
Marín affirmed that visits to communities by healthcare officials for the elimination of dengue “have been limited” in locations where there are positive cases for COVID-19. Those visits include, among other actions, indoor fumigations.
“Home visits were reduced, which were often made for a reasonable subject, if you entered the houses, you could infect the officials. At that time, it was much better. But let’s be clear, we didn’t stop the fumigation for a single day”, Marín said.
As a response, the Ministry has implemented heavy equipment fumigation from the streets.
For that reason, Healthcare Department is asking the population to destroy the breeding grounds of the mosquito.
“95% of the breeding sites are indoors. So, it is a paradox. If people are in the house, one would say, they can use 10 minutes to destroy breeding grounds and it has not been possible [because we have more cases]”, the official said.
In an official statement from the Healthcare Department, the measures to be implemented by the population are:
● Eliminate breeding grounds such as tires, containers, buckets, animal drinkers and black plastics.
● Apply mosquito repellent to exposed skin
● Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
● Use mosquito nets