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Fighting Dengue in Honduras

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 2, 2023

Recent events have put the world’s spotlight on disease outbreak and control; since the COVID-19 pandemic started, scarcely a news broadcast has gone by without some mention of the topic. Although the COVID-19 outbreak is far and away the one most troubling to the world right now, it is not alone–other diseases are also on the rise, and the tolls they are taking on various nations are on an alarming uptick. 


What Is Dengue?


Of particular note to public health experts is the Honduras dengue outbreak, the worst in recent memory. Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes and can bring muscle fatigue, bleeding from orifices, and fluid imbalance, all of which can worsen to the point of fatality if left untreated. Honduras and the surrounding tropical region have a high risk of dengue any year–Honduras alone reports between five and ten thousand cases annually–but 2019 saw that number spike to over 44,000 patients, with the vast majority requiring more than simple stay-at-home treatment. 


This influx of cases has seriously strained the Honduras medical system, flooding existing care centers and spilling into the newly established facilities faster than they could be staffed. The government of Honduras has declared the outbreak a national disaster, tapping emergency funds and protocols in an attempt to keep up with the overflow. Countermeasures have been taken on several levels, including social awareness campaigns to make people understand how to protect themselves, appeals for volunteers and donations, and boosting recruitment for more medical personnel. 


Is There A Vaccine?


If all that sounded bad, there’s worse; vaccination–one of the world’s most widespread methods of disease control–is not an option in this case. The dengue vaccine has not yet been developed to the point of complete reliability. It has been proven effective on an estimated 80% of cases but can seriously worsen infection in first-time hosts or those with lytic dengue currently in their system. 


The vaccine cannot be used for technical reasons as well. Production of the vaccine in Honduras or nearby countries has never reached the level that would be needed to combat this outbreak. Additionally, the vaccine costs too much to be made available to the general public; an estimated $200 is needed to supply each patient, a sum that would swamp Honduras’s reserves if fully applied. 


What Can Be Done?


Despite other public health concerns facing the world, there have been efforts to bring the dengue outbreak under control. Various charities the world over have moved more than $200,000 to Honduras to aid in implementing treatments and prevention. An international mission on behalf of the World Health Organization has sent considerable supplies and personnel, and a conglomerate of the nearby countries have unanimously agreed to take steps against the mosquitoes that form dengue’s main vector for transmitting the disease. 


One of the primary steps being led by a council of Honduras’s mayors has been to physically attack standing water near populated areas. Because standing water is ideal for mosquitoes to breed, draining the swamps and puddles is likely to reduce the spread of the disease. Mass fumigation is also being considered for the same reason. 


Honduras is only rarely on the world’s news cycle. With luck, it will not make a name for itself for the population lost to mosquitoes.


Written by Shlomo Witty

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