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Peru: 31 children dead, nearly 46,000 sick in major dengue outbreak

At least 31 children have died and a further 45,900 children have been infected with the deadly dengue virus, in the worst epidemic of the illness in Peru in over a decade, said Save the Children.
17 June 2023

The country has seen over 150,294 cases since January 2023, a number substantially higher than the previous peak of 74,000 cases for the entire year in 2017. The death toll from the viral outbreak has risen to 252 nationwide. The country normally averages around 28,000 cases per year, with peaks during El Nino weather events.

Children account for over 30% of all cases in the latest outbreak in Peru, with children in Piura and Lambayeque regions worst affected presenting the main symptoms of dengue: fever, sleepiness, lack of energy, or irritability, rash, vomiting and unusual bleeding in the more serious cases.

The alarming figures demonstrate the high vulnerability of children to this disease and the need to reinforce prevention and control measures against dengue, which is transmitted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Confronting this dengue outbreak has been challenging for Peru because warmer weather conditions and heavy rains are providing the ideal environment for the breeding of the dengue-transmitting mosquito These conditions were intensified by the arrival of Cyclone Yaku at the beginning of the year, the first cyclone in the country for 40 years. The effects of the climate crisis is making it difficult to stop the outbreak despite the intensification of fumigation and elimination of breeding sites.

Dengue fever is common in tropical parts of the world, and outbreaks are typical during rainy seasons. Children are particularly vulnerable to the disease because their immune systems are weaker than adults and they tend to play outside where there’s less protection against the mosquitos.

This dengue outbreak is impacting 18 out of 24 regions of the country that have been declared in a state of emergency. The dengue epidemic has also led to the interruption of classes, with some areas opting for a return to virtual education, which had ended with the decline of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, the overwhelming number of cases has exceeded the capacity of local hospitals and health centers, limiting access to timely medical care.

Andrés, 16, living in Lima region, said:

“We are seeing how dengue affects children and teenagers. Like with COVID-19, it affects us really badly, even killing some children, and many of us now need to once again take our classes at home. People are very scared. The worst places for the dengue are in the north (of Peru)”.

With the El Niño Global phenomenon, the climatic conditions will favor the emergence of dengue and other diseases that pose a risk to the most vulnerable groups, including children and adolescents, pregnant women, and the elderly.

Verónica Valdivieso, Save the Children Perú Director, said:

“Peru's children are particularly vulnerable to dengue fever, and the high rates of cases is notably concerning.  Peru desperately needs stronger national leadership to put policies in place to prevent and respond to epidemics like this. Children need to be prioritised, as well as improving public health investment and the reinforcing preventive measures to eradicate the mosquito breeding sites.”

As part of its comprehensive response to the emergency caused by rains and floods, Save the Children is distributing safe water kits, hygiene kits, disinfection kits for shelters and educational institutions, and supporting vector control through fumigation in coordination with the Ministry of Health. In addition, a prevention campaign with targeted messages for children and adolescents has been implemented, disseminated in homes and schools, with the potential for widespread replication.

Save the Children has worked in Peru since 1980, reaching more than 129,800 people

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: Mala Darmadi on 0425562113 or media.team@savethechildren.org.au.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

  • Dengue causes flu-like illness, including a sudden high fever coming in separate waves, pain behind the eyes, muscle, joint and bone pain, severe headache, and a skin rash with red spots.
  • ​People with symptoms get ill between 4 to 7 days after a bite from an infected Aedes mosquito. The illness can become the fatal Severe Dengue, which is characterised by severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions, bruising, uncontrolled bleeding, and high fever which can last from 2 to 7 days.

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