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Dengue Outbreaks More Likely Because of COVID-19

Published Date: May 20, 2020

The World Mosquito Program (WMP) is concerned the worldwide response to COVID-19 makes outbreaks of dengue fever more likely, placing pressure on strained health systems in developing countries.

Current predictions indicate 2020 will see a high number of dengue cases in South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean - countries already managing a local COVID-19 response.

Professor Scott O’Neill, Director of the World Mosquito Program, said “We’re facing a perfect storm where fragile health systems manage outbreaks of two diseases at once”.

Many actions governments are taking to reduce COVID-19 can contribute to a rise in dengue cases.

Mandated lockdowns mean people are spending more time in the home, where most transmission of dengue from Aedes aegypti mosquitoes occurs.

Many dengue control measures – such as removal of potential mosquito breeding sites by local residents – have also ceased.

Health workers who usually promote this work in the community are working from home or many have been reassigned to their local COVID-19 response.

Recent reports from Latin America have seen patients diagnosed with dengue fever refusing to go to hospital because of fear of COVID-19.

Professor O’Neill added, “There’s been so much work flattening the curve of COVID-19 to prevent fragile health systems being overwhelmed. But that great work might have the opposite effect if the health system is overwhelmed by patients with dengue”.

COVID-19 has led to WMP’s pausing its own projects worldwide, with staff unable to work with the community in person.

 “The welfare of our staff and the communities with whom we work is our number one priority. We only release Wolbachia mosquitoes with the support of the local community. We can’t do this work in a world of physical distancing.”

While unable to release mosquitoes, WMP is using its own networks to promote preventative measures against mosquito-borne disease such as removing stagnant water where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes lay eggs.

Professor O’Neill is urging governments to not lose focus on long-term health issues and ensure they maintain some dengue prevention measures during their COVID-19 response.

 “Dengue remains the world’s fastest growing tropical disease. We need Governments to take action to reduce dengue transmission and stop health systems being overwhelmed.”

“When the COVID-19 pandemic passes, dengue will still be a serious global health issue. We need to get better at managing these pandemics and outbreaks with more resilient health systems and innovative disease control measures.”      

WMP partners with local health authorities in 13 countries, many of whom have been reassigned to their local COVID-19 response.

In Indonesia the WMP Tahija Foundation Research Laboratory – which usually tests for dengue and Wolbachia carrying mosquitoes in the WMP Yogyakarta Project – has temporarily become a COVID-19 testing site.

“This is an unprecedented global response to a pandemic that is testing local health systems,” said Professor O’Neill.

“By not losing sight of how we prevent a disease like dengue – of which 40% of the world’s population is at risk – we ease the burden on health systems now and better prepare them for future pandemics.”

For further information or interviews, please contact

Dale Amtsberg,Media Relations, World Mosquito Program

Dengue Outbreaks More Likely Because of COVID-19

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