Dengue in Panama - There is no Reason to Panic!4th April 2014
The issue of Dengue infection in Panama has been making the news in the past few years. The local press calls it an epidemic (but they love to overuse the word). Potential visitors to Panama are rightfully asking questions about health risks. Here are some insights about the situation to alleviate some of your concern.
Panama is a tropical country and has mosquitoes. The Dengue fever is carried by the Aedes aegypti variety. Like most tropical mosquitoes, the Aedes breeds in stagnant, open-air water. Around garbage is another favorite breeding ground. The areas most affected in Panama City are San Miguelito and El Chorrillo. The Darien and Chriqui provinces have also reported numerous cases. The Dengue infection can hit anyone from babies to octogenarians.
Statistics About Dengue in Panama
How serious is the threat? According to the Latin American Herald Tribune quoting Panama’s Health Minister, Javier Diaz, in 2013 there were around 899 cases with no fatalities. Stats for this year have not been fully compiled but 10+ fatalities have been confirmed. It should be noted that these are some of the lowest numbers for Dengue in the tropical LATAM region.
So what are the Dengue symptoms? Victims may have chills, headaches, fever, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and pain in the eyes, back, legs and joints. Another warning is a pink rash that eventually disappears. On average the time from bite to symptom appearance is three to 15 days.
If you are Dengue positive, what can you do? There is no official inoculation for Dengue (though one is under development). Symptoms will be treated through a combination of re-hydration, aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, or other means. The key to getting better is getting to a doctor as soon as you suspect Dengue.
How can you avoid contracting Dengue? The Mayo Clinic recommends these steps.
Stay in air-conditioned or well-screened housing
It's particularly important to keep mosquitoes out at night. (Our facility provides you this protection and periodic Dengue inspections of our resort.)
Reschedule outdoor activities
Avoid being outdoors at dawn, dusk and early evening, when more mosquitoes are out.
Wear protective clothing
When you go into mosquito-infested areas, wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks and shoes.
Use mosquito repellent
Permethrin can be applied to your clothing, shoes, camping gear and bed netting. You can also buy clothing made with permethrin already in it. For your skin, use a repellent containing at least a 10 percent concentration of DEET.
Specialized Centers in Panama
If you contract Dengue, fortunately you are not alone in Panama. There are numerous private practitioners who specialize in the disease. The doctors in the Gorgas Institute in Balboa work in what is the worldwide epicenter for tropical disease treatment and research in the world. There is even a Johns Hopkins hospital in Panama City.
The Role of Panamanian Authorities
So what is Panama doing to combat the Dengue infection? To the Ministry of Health’s and the government’s credit, Panama has initiated effective battle campaigns. (The Smithsonian Tropical Institute in Panama is advising as well).
On the front lines, national health authorities are fumigating high-risk areas at government expense. Spot inspections are being conducted and if someone is found with standing water containing Aedes aegypti larvae, they face fines of up to $500.
Other measures include national TV and radio campaigns giving advice. And many local communities are pitching in to do clean up in their neighborhoods. On the high-tech environmental front, Panama has authorized an eradication program to be implemented by England's Oxitec. Sterile male mosquitoes will be introduced to breed with female Aedes. (As one British journalist put it, “Male mosquitoes to be sent on suicide mission to mate with wild females.”) The program is monitored by the Gorgas Institute.
As you can see, there is no need for mosquito panic when in Panama. Enjoy your healthy stay just like our other guests and we who live here do.
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