Dengue fever kills hundreds in Burkina Faso as cases spike

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Burkina Faso’s health ministry has declared a dengue fever epidemic amid the deadliest outbreak in years in which more than 200 people have died and new cases are rising sharply.

There have been 50,478 suspected cases and 214 deaths of the mosquito-borne illness this year, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, mostly in the urban centres of the capital Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso. About 20% of the cases and deaths were recorded last week alone, it said.

Dengue kills an estimated 20,000 people worldwide each year. Rates of the disease have risen eight-fold since 2000, driven largely by climate change, the increased movement of people, and urbanization.

The World Health Organization this month warned that the disease would become a major threat in new parts of Africa as warmer temperatures create the conditions for the mosquitoes carrying the infection to spread.

Dengue is spread by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, muscle pain, nausea and rashes. Lack of treatment or misdiagnosis, common in poverty-stricken countries such as Burkina Faso where healthcare is spotty, increase the chance of death.

Burkina Faso’s outbreak dwarfs other African outbreaks in recent years. According to figures from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, dengue killed 18 people in Burkina Faso in 2017 and 15 in 2016.

The health ministry said that it was providing free rapid diagnostic tests and had organised spraying of insecticide in public places to counter the spread.

(Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Edward McAllister and Alex Richardson)