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Strength in numbers: How federal agencies are combatting dengue in Puerto Rico

by | Apr 15, 2024 | Federal Government, Puerto Rico, Science and Environment | 0 comments

The Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDH) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working to combat an outbreak of dengue fever in Puerto Rico. Recently, health officials on the islands have observed a stark rise in dengue cases, with the territory officially declaring a public health emergency in late March. Although rarely fatal, the virus, which is caused by mosquitoes, manifests in potentially severe symptoms such as fever, vomiting, rash, and body pains. Additionally, the virus has a high 62% hospitalization rate despite no known fatalities at this time. Pan American Health Organization director Jarbas Barbosa said, “This is cause for concern, as it represents three times more cases than those reported for the same period in 2023.”

To combat the virus, the PRDH is working hand in hand with the CDC to strengthen programs for surveillance and prevention of dengue. Similar to previous outbreaks, these federal organizations are attempting to spread awareness about sanitation and other methods for repelling infectious mosquitoes. Nursing Professionals Association President Susan Figueroa González advised that “The prevention and elimination of breeding sites for mosquitoes that transmit the dengue virus is essential…The population must keep spaces clean and eliminate containers that accumulate water. The use of repellents to prevent bites is a good option.” 

In 1963 and 1969, Puerto Rico experienced a rise in dengue fever, as the number of total cases surpassed 40,000 during these outbreaks. At that time, the PRDH worked closely with the CDC to better understand and combat the virus. These organizations created community outreach programs and education campaigns to help fight the disease by spreading awareness about the disease and promoting methods to keep areas clean to stop the spread of the virus. This proved to have a significant impact on community awareness and helped to reduce mosquito infestations territory-wide. Additionally, health officials on the islands used vector surveillance and population control technology, such as the mosquito ovitrap, which collects the eggs of mosquitoes, trapping the offspring of potentially infectious mosquitoes. In past outbreaks, these strategies, in combination with the cooperation of both the PRDH and CDC, worked to limit the spread of dengue across the territory of Puerto Rico, with one study observing, “In Puerto Rico, a close alliance of CDC with PRDH has proven to be integral not only in detecting and responding to epidemics but also in furthering the collective understanding of the molecular, diagnostic, epidemiologic, and entomologic characteristics of dengue.”

While past dengue fever outbreaks encouraged collaboration between the CDC and PRDH, these two agencies also overcame obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic in their efforts to aid Puerto Ricans. The islands were heavily impacted by the pandemic, with over 84,000 confirmed cases in 2020. As vaccines became available, the CDC worked with the PRDH to create an implementation plan to provide vaccines that were readily available in Puerto Rico. This included the creation of online resources that allowed vaccine providers to register and begin the vaccination process quickly. According to CDC Puerto Rico team leader Gabriela Paz-Bailey, “Under the leadership of Iris Cardona and Angel Rivera, and the PRDH Immunization Program staff, the CDC field assignees and deployment team facilitated the administration of more than half a million vaccines throughout the island in about three months.”

As a result of the unprecedented outbreak of dengue fever in Puerto Rico, federal and territory agencies are encouraging the public to maintain sanitary conditions in their living arrangements. The multi-pronged strategy that has the CDC working in conjunction with PRDH aims to minimize the spread of the disease and the loss of human life. The ongoing positive relationship between both federal agencies enhances the capabilities of Puerto Rico’s response to the virus, drawing on past successes to work together collaboratively to mitigate the public health crisis.



Bryce Leiberman

Bryce Leiberman

Bryce Leiberman is a researcher and writer who has been published in the Connecticut Post and the Journal of Addiction and Recovery. Bryce has worked with nonprofits and independent political parties with the goal of shining a light on underrepresented groups and issues impacting their lives. Bryce’s goals are centered around continuing to report stories that will have a global impact. He is an avid political science enthusiast, and enjoys writing and playing tennis in his spare time. As a junior in high-school, Bryce holds many leadership positions both in school and in his community. At Pasquines, he is a Federal Affairs Intern Correspondent.


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