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Dengue epidemic in Bolivia: how dengue can be prevented

13 March 2009 -- Bolivia is currently suffering one of its worst dengue epidemics in decades. In this episode, we find out the current situation there and how dengue can be prevented.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast, and my name is Veronica Riemer. Bolivia is currently suffering one of its worst dengue epidemics in decades. In this episode, we find out the current situation there and how dengue can be prevented.

Bolivia is currently suffering one of its worst dengue epidemics in decades. Dr Ciro Ugarte, Regional Adviser for Emergency Preparedness for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), has recently returned from Bolivia. He talks to us about the situation there.

Dr Ciro Ugarte: At this moment dengue in Bolivia is reaching 42 000 cases and mainly in the department of Santa Cruz which is in the jungle. And, we have unfortunately in total around 14 deaths there in Bolivia.

Veronica Riemer: Dengue is a viral disease and it is transmitted through the bite of an Aedes aegypti mosquito. This mosquito lives very close to people in built-up areas and thrives in stagnant water. The disease has spread as a result of rapid urbanization, especially where lack of clean water and sanitation is a problem.

Dr Ciro Ugarte: The main issue that has to happen there to control the dengue is not treatment, not vector control, it has to be the community participation to eliminate all those small pieces of water staying in the houses, where you put the flowers, the caps of drinks or small bottles or tyres etc, those have to be eliminated. Those are the places where the mosquito lives and reproduces and the mosquito bites inside the houses, so the people have to control those, eliminate those places where small amounts of water stays.

Veronica Riemer: Dr Renu Dayal-Drager is a scientist working in WHO's Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response Department. She explains that this is a cause for concern the world over.

Dr Renu Dayal-Drager: Dengue exists in many parts of the world. 2.5 billion people live in areas where dengue is transmitted and mainly in South East Asia and Pacific islands, in Latin America, in the Caribbean islands and now also in Africa and the Middle East. But one of the issues with dengue is that many people travel to these countries for vacation or for work. It is a globalized world and they can come back with an infection of dengue. So it also concerns Europeans, North Americans because they are travellers.

Veronica Riemer: Dengue is a flu-like febral disease with a sudden onset of high fever which can last from 3 to 7 days. It can come with severe headache, muscle and joint pain, eye pain, and that's why it is often called "break bone fever". Nausea and vomiting are the other symptoms of dengue, which can be fatal.

Dr Renu Dayal-Drager: Dengue does cause death. Usually, in one to two percent of the dengue cases can progress to a severe disease called dengue hemorrhagic fever. This disease results in leaky capillaries and also then haemorrhage. And this can also be resolved but some of these cases will go into shock and organ failure and then die.

Veronica Riemer: There is no vaccine to prevent dengue and no medicine to treat it. The solution is protection from mosquito bites.

Dr Renu Dayal-Drager: Dengue really is an effort on the person to protect themselves from mosquito bites. This can be done with insecticide repellents, this can also be done by protecting yourself by wearing long-sleeved clothes, staying in air conditioned or screened homes, using mosquito nets and generally being alert about where you are going and applying insecticides frequently. If you use sunscreen when you are travelling, you should apply your insecticide on top of the sunscreen, not before.

Veronica Riemer: When dengue infection is suspected, treatment should begin immediately.

Dr Renu Dayal-Drager: When you want to treat yourself for dengue fever with pain reliever, use paracetamol, avoid pain relievers that contain aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen. Rest and drink plenty of fluids, and consult a physician.

Veronica Riemer: That was Dr Renu Dayal-Drager from WHO describing how to prevent and treat dengue. If you would like to learn more about this subject, there are links to related information on the transcript page of this podcast episode. Look for the link to the podcast on the home page of our web site, at

That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening.

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For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.