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Dengue Fever: Brazil's Fastest-Spreading Disease


Families living in poor rural and overcrowded urban areas are often at the highest risk of contracting dengue fever.
Families living in poor rural and overcrowded urban
areas are often at the highest risk of contracting dengue fever.

Dengue fever is a potentially deadly tropical infection with symptoms that range from a mild fever to severe headaches and muscular pain. Although reported cases of dengue fever are increasing worldwide, some countries have experienced particularly sharp rises in the number of people becoming infected by the virus, which is spread by mosquitoes. In Brazil, dengue fever has become the country's fastest-spreading disease, and families living in the country's poorest regions are often at the highest risk.

A Widespread Problem

Cases of dengue fever in Brazil have risen considerably during the past 23 years. In 1990, there were approximately 78,000 cases of dengue fever reported across Brazil. By 2010, more than 980,000 cases were reported, and in January and February of this year alone, there were 200,000 reported cases of dengue fever in Brazil, although most were not deadly. Nonetheless, dengue fever is a serious and growing problem.

High Risks

Unfortunately, Brazil is far from unique with regards to the rise in reported cases of dengue fever. Many South American and African nations have experienced similar increases in the number of cases during the past 20 years, and families living in poverty without access to adequate health care face particularly high risk of contracting the virus. Children and infants are among the most susceptible to severe cases of the disease.  

"This is currently happening not only in Brazil, but in many other countries as well," says Donald Shepard, a professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. "Recent estimates suggest that there may be up to 3.6 billion people at risk and more than 400 million infections annually, of which about 25 percent are symptomatic and result in about 20,000 deaths."

Urgent Action

Similarly to malaria, dengue fever is transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes, and these insects thrive in areas with poor sanitation. In Brazil, urban areas are often the center of outbreaks of dengue due to overcrowding and limited resources. Children who contract dengue fever are at particularly high risk of developing a serious complication of the infection known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can cause vomiting, bleeding and severe abdominal pain.

Improving sanitation is one of the best ways we can fight the spread of dengue fever in Brazil. ChildFund has worked in Brazil since 1966, and expanding access to clean water has been one of our top priorities in poor regions of the country, from mountain villages to overcrowded urban areas. Although our projects have benefited many families, there is still much work ahead of us. To help ChildFund improve conditions in Brazil's poorest communities, please consider making a donation to our monthly giving programs or becoming a child sponsor.


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