Direct Relief Responding to Dengue Fever Outbreak in Bolivia

Direct Relief has sent emergency medical aid to Bolivia, where an “unprecedented” dengue fever epidemic has struck almost 34,000 people. Chief among the products included in the emergency consignment is the analgesic Tylenol, a critically needed medicine in response to dengue fever. McNeil Consumer Healthcare is supporting the emergency response with this donation, which will treat 11,500 fever episodes. Abbott Labs and Baxter have generously donated antibiotics to treat infections that often increase during flooding. FedEx makes this emergency airlift possible through a generous in-kind donation.

Mosquitoes transmit dengue fever to people. A mild case often presents as a bad flu, with a headache, muscle aches and a rash accompanying a fever lasting up to seven days. In severe cases, these symptoms are so pronounced that the condition is nicknamed “break-bone fever.” With no cure for dengue fever, the main treatment is to reduce pain and fever with analgesics.

About 1 percent of cases progress to dengue hemorrhagic fever, which includes internal bleeding. For this reason, acetaminophen-based analgesics such as Tylenol are indicated over aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, which can exacerbate bleeding.

A state of emergency has been declared in four departments in Bolivia, including Beni, where Direct Relief’s partner Rio Beni Health Project, is located. At its main clinic in Rurrenabaque, Rio Beni, is seeing dengue fever patients “in droves.” Providing health care to 60 remote villages along three rivers in the upper Amazon basin, Rio Beni staff travels by boat and diesel truck to cover 2,000 square miles of territory, and has been working in the region since 1998.

Christopher Brady, the project’s director, contracted dengue fever himself during his February visit to Bolivia and has recovered, thanks to rest and rehydration. “Because dengue is carried by a daytime mosquito, it’s impossible to avoid it,” he says. Towns are spraying insecticide and eliminating sources of standing water that are breeding grounds for the mosquitoes, but the problem is widespread. The mayor of Beni province has asked the Rio Beni Health Project to respond to the emergency, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health.

Heavy rains have caused the Beni River to overflow its banks. Direct Relief is including in this shipment antibiotics donated by Abbott (valued at more than $56,000 wholesale) and Baxter Healthcare to treat respiratory infections, which increase during heavy rains.

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