The Heat Is Online

Dengue, Malaria Epidemic Hits Venezuela

ProMED Digest Wednesday, January 19 2000 Volume 2000 : Number 015



Date: 19 Jan 2000 From: ProMED-mail

Source: EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc. Tue 18 Jan 2000


[Epidemiology Director Jose Rafael Mendoza] said the nationwide alert declared by health authorities on 27 Dec 1999 will remain in place for several months given the situation.


Health and Development Ministry Epidemiology Director Jose Rafael Mendoza said there has been an increase in the number of cases since June, but that "we have been entering a nationwide epidemic phase of dengue fever and malaria" for 3 weeks, the Caracas media reported Tuesday.

The official said the nationwide alert declared by health authorities on 27 Dec 1999 will remain in place for several months given the situation. Mendoza said that dengue fever, a disease transmitted by the mosquito species -- Aedes aegypti -- that may lead to death in hemorrhagic cases, is mainly found in the western states of Zulia and Falcon.

A total of 545 dengue fever cases have been reported in Zulia over the last three weeks and 292 cases in Falcon.


Venezuela warns of health risks in flood aftermath

Reuters News Service, Jan. 7, 2000

CARACAS - Venezuela warned yesterday of growing epidemic risks in the wake of last month's deadly mudslides and urged people to stay away from Caribbean beaches where the bodies of dozens of victims had washed up.

Health Minister Gilberto Rodriguez said that the bodies, which have been carried hundreds of miles (kilometers) by sea currents, did not represent a health problem as they were in the sea and had not contaminated drinking water.

"It's shocking, it's painful that there are bodies floating in the sea, but this does not per se represent an epidemic risk," he told a news conference.

"Of course, for the time being people are advised not to use the beaches in these areas of the country (where bodies were washed up)," Rodriguez told the Globovision television network.

Officials said the bodies had come from the worst-hit Vargas state where torrential rains in mid-December sparked flash floods and mudslides that buried entire settlements under tons of earth and rocks, killing up to 50,000 people.

With most of Vargas still without running water and tens of thousands of flood survivors living in cramped temporary shelters around the South American country, authorities were on guard for diseases such as cholera, dengue and yellow fever.

"We're going to declare a national alert because the possibilities of epidemic outbreaks are more present than ever," Rodriguez said.

Mass vaccinations were not planned, he said, but special brigades had fanned out across Vargas to kill rats which could spread disease.

A boat belonging to Venezuela's state oil company was anchored off the coast of Vargas to supply 280,000 barrels of clean water for the zone, he added.


Officials in the northwestern Falcon state said about 100 bodies had been spotted floating in the sea about 250 miles (400 km) west of Vargas state.

"The reports come from pilots and boats in the area and we presume that the information is correct," Falcon state Civil Defence Director Melquiades Jordan told Reuters. "There are certainly a great number of bodies arriving onshore."

So far, 39 bodies have been recovered in Falcon, whose white sand islets and turquoise waters make it a popular weekend destination for Venezuelans and foreign tourists.

Falcon beaches remained open but authorities recommended local people to stay away from the coast where the badly decomposed cadavers were found floating among mattresses, refrigerator doors, tree trunks and other debris from Vargas.

Also possibly washed out to sea was an unknown quantity of chemical products which had been stored at the country's main port in Vargas state capital La Guaira.

"The flow of the floods was just where these warehouses of chemical products were located," said Environment Minister Jesus Perez.

"We don't know exactly what was there," he said, adding that the warehouses had been totally destroyed and their contents buried under yards (meters) of mud.

The area was cordoned off and U.S. experts were drafted in to help assess the damage and try to identify the chemicals involved.