World Cup 2014: Brazil 'must act to prevent outbreak of dengue fever' during summer tournament, warns expert

 

Picture the scene. It’s an hour before kick-off on Brazil’s north-east coast and anticipation is building on the streets of Natal. A crowd of football fans from every corner of the globe is gathering in cafés and caipirinha bars, all on their way to the gleaming new Estadio das Dunas – where health officials wearing gas masks are assiduously fogging mosquitoes out of the gutters, their fumes glimmering in the sun.

Most World Cups have their peculiar, defining feature – “Nessun dorma” at Italia 1990; vuvuzelas in South Africa 2010. But what are the chances that Brazil 2014 will be remembered – somewhat less fondly – as the dengue fever World Cup? Dengue, an infection spread by mosquitoes, “could be a significant problem” in some of the host cities, a leading British expert has warned, amid growing evidence that the disease is “on the march” around the world.

Brazil saw well over a million cases last year and the global tally now totals, by some estimates, around 400 million annually. The disease causes severe headaches and aching in the bones and joints, which can get so bad it has earned the sobriquet “breakbone fever”. Around a quarter of victims become very unwell and in a small proportion of cases it can be fatal.

Although the World Cup is being held at a time of year when the dengue risk is low for most parts of Brazil, for three host cities in the north east – Fortaleza, Salvador and Natal – it will be close to its peak, said Professor Simon Hay, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, who raised the alarm in the journal Nature at the end of last year.

 

“Dengue is on the march,” he told The Independent. “People tend to know about malaria – most people know that if you go to a tropical country you should take malaria pills. I don’t think most people know about dengue. It’s a horrible disease if you get it.”

The mosquito species which spreads dengue, Aedes aegypti, is easily identifiable by its white spots. It is a prodigiously successful breeder and thrives in urban areas, where it can breed in stagnant water – anything from a discarded coke can gathering rainwater to a blocked gutter. Clearing potential breeding sites in host cities will be crucial, Professor Hay said, adding that fogging – the use of aerosol insecticides – should begin in April and May.

His piece in Nature received some “pretty pointed comments” from Brazilians, he says. The authorities are understandably eager to allay fears of a major dengue outbreak, with international enthusiasm for the World Cup already dented by the deaths of workers building stadiums and riots over the cost of the event to a population still blighted by poverty.

But Professor Hay has no criticism for the Brazilian health authorities – merely a concern that many of the 500,000 international football fans expected to descend on Brazil this summer, largely from countries where dengue is unheard of, might not be as wary of the disease as they should be. A Ministry of Health worker fumigates a public university which has suffered a dangerous outbreak of dengue fever A Ministry of Health worker fumigates a public university which has suffered a dangerous outbreak of dengue fever

“You’ve got lots of people coming and you pretty much know where they’re going and at what times. I think getting the word out that dengue is an issue – posters in the right place when fans are going into stadiums, will be important,” he said.

There are no drugs and no vaccines against dengue – although the latter is at the human testing stage at Brazil’s own Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo. The most effective way to prevent it is to avoid getting bitten.

Health authorities in Brazil say they are alive to the threat. Local areas were given a total of $363m (£218m) in 2013 to combat dengue and regional authorities are being tasked with inspecting stadiums and other areas where World Cup crowds will be congregating for mosquito breeding areas.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...