The Armed Forces of Brazil have joined the fight against dengue fever in Rio do Janeiro, Monday, March 31, setting up three field hospitals to combat an epidemic that has already caused 54 deaths in 2008 and has surged to 1.4 new cases each minute.
State health officials say the field hospitals should help ease the shortage of hospital beds and take some of the pressure off emergency rooms packed with victims of the mosquito-borne disease.
Rio de Janeiro state, home to 16 million people, has seen more than 45,000 cases of dengue since January, compared to 25,107 cases in all of 2007, government officials say. Smaller outbreaks of the disease in Ceará, Pará and São Paulo states have brought the number of cases to more than 70,000 nationally so far this year.
Dengue causes high fevers, severe headaches and joint pains but is not usually fatal. More than half of the 54 fatalities this year have been children under 13 years of age. But more than 60 reported deaths, including that of three children over the weekend, are still under investigation.
Brazil had more than half of the 900,782 cases of dengue in the Americas last year, according to the Pan American Health Organization. Of the hemisphere's 317 deaths, 158 happened in Brazil, including 31 in Rio state.
Treating victims has been complicated by a shortage of pediatricians. On Monday, Rio de Janeiro Health Secretary Sergio Cortes requested 154 pediatricians from other states to help out with the epidemic. The state's hospital system in Rio do Janeiro already insufficient has simply collapsed as a consequence of the epidemic.
The military sanitary display includes 1.200 doctors and support staff which are working round the clock in the field hospitals set up by the three services with a total of 140 beds.
Hundreds of soldiers are also in the streets with fumigation equipments to combat the de Aedes Aegypti mosquito and larvae which prosper in the stagnant waters of tropical Rio and its poor drainage and sewage systems.
There are no vaccines for dengue and patients must be treated with oral or intravenous drugs.