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Staying Safe During Dengue Outbreak in Brazil

Updated: Mar 8

Imagine planning your dream vacation to Brazil, only to find yourself battling a potentially life-threatening mosquito-borne illness. 

With over 1 million dengue cases reported in just two months, the country is grappling with an unprecedented outbreak. As a traveler, being aware of the risks and taking proper precautions is crucial.

Key Takeaways

  • Several Brazilian states, including the Federal District where the capital Brasília is located, have declared a state of emergency due to the Dengue Fever outbreak.

  • Brazil has started rolling out a new two-dose dengue vaccine called Qdenga, which showed 80% efficacy in clinical trials, initially targeting vulnerable groups.

  • Watch for warning signs like stomach pain, vomiting, bleeding, fatigue, and difficulty breathing 24-48 hours after initial fever subsides, as 1 in 20 cases can progress to life-threatening severe dengue.

With over 1 million cases of dengue fever reported in just the first two months of 2024, Brazil is in the midst of an unprecedented outbreak of this mosquito-borne viral disease. 

The situation has become so severe that several Brazilian states, including the Federal District where the capital Brasília is located, have declared a state of emergency.

As travelers prepare for upcoming trips to Brazil, it's crucial to be aware that there is currently no dengue vaccine available for travelers from the United States. While vaccine development efforts are underway in Brazil, with the first public rollout of a new dengue vaccine just starting, American visitors will need to take other precautions to reduce their risk of contracting this potentially serious illness.

Understanding Dengue Fever

Dengue is a viral infection transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are found in tropical and subtropical regions. Symptoms can range from mild fever, rash, muscle/joint pain (giving it the nickname "breakbone fever") to more severe forms involving persistent vomiting, bleeding from the gums or nose, and difficulty breathing.

In severe cases, dengue can progress to a life-threatening condition called dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome. While fatal cases are relatively rare, the intense pain and flu-like symptoms can be extremely unpleasant and may require medical care.

Dengue Vaccine Rollout in Brazil

In an attempt to protect its population, Brazil's public health system began rolling out the Qdenga dengue vaccine in February 2024. This two-dose vaccine from Japan has shown around 80% efficacy one year after the second dose in clinical trials. Initially, it is being targeted toward the most vulnerable groups.

Additionally, Brazil's Butantan Institute is developing its own single-dose dengue vaccine candidate that provided nearly 80% protection across all four dengue virus strains in recent clinical trials from 2013 to 2015.

While promising, previous issues with a dengue vaccine used in the Philippines that raised safety concerns means any new vaccines must be closely monitored. Still, effective dengue vaccines could be a game-changer in controlling future outbreaks in Brazil and beyond.

Protecting Yourself Against Dengue Outbreak

The best way for travelers to prevent dengue is to avoid mosquito bites entirely. Some recommended precautions include:

  • Using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when possible, especially during peak mosquito hours around dawn and dusk

  • Staying in accommodations with air conditioning and window/door screens to keep mosquitoes out

  • Sleeping under permethrin-treated bed nets if screens are not available

It's also wise to remove any sources of standing water around your accommodations, as these provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Recognizing Dengue Symptoms

While initial dengue symptoms like fever, rash, and muscle/joint pain may seem mild, watch for warning signs in the 24 to 48 hours after the fever subsides. About 1 in 20 dengue cases will progress to severe dengue, which requires hospitalization and can lead to death if medication is delayed.

If you or a family member develop any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Stomach/belly pain or tenderness

  • Vomiting (at least 3 times in 24 hours)

  • Bleeding from the nose or gums

  • Vomiting blood or blood in the stool

  • Feeling excessively tired, restless or irritable

  • Cold, clammy skin

  • Difficulty breathing

Severe dengue is a medical emergency and requires prompt hospitalization. Without treatment, it can lead to severe bleeding, organ impairment, plasma leakage, dangerously low blood pressure, coma, organ failure and death.

Accessing Medical Care in Brazil

Brazil's public health system (SUS) is being overwhelmed by the huge influx of dengue cases. Field hospitals and triage tents have been set up in some areas to cope with the surge of patients seeking care for suspected dengue.

As a traveler, your first point of contact should be an international clinic, private hospital or your accommodations' medical staff. Have a plan to access quality care and consider purchasing comprehensive travel health insurance in case you need treatment or medical evacuation.

Getting Travel Health Guidance

Although no dengue vaccine option exists yet for US residents visiting Brazil, consulting a travel health clinic can help ensure you take all recommended precautions. Away Clinic, with locations in Chandler, Phoenix, and Scottsdale in Arizona, offers comprehensive travel health plans tailored to your destination.

Away Clinic can advise you on measures like proper insect repellent use, antimalarial medications if needed, basic first aid guidance, and more. They can also ensure you are up-to-date on all routine and travel-related vaccinations proven to protect against other diseases found in Brazil.

Visiting Away Clinic allows you to be fully prepared and minimize your risk from mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue when no vaccine exists.


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