Less than two weeks before the start of the 20th FIFA World Cup, the host city of Campinas is working to eradicate a deadly outbreak of dengue fever before the first teams arrive.
Already this year, an estimated 32,384 people have been infected
by dengue fever in Campinas, a southeastern Brazilian city about
one hour from Sao Paulo. At least three deaths have been blamed
on the viral infection.
Now, officials are working around the clock to eradicate mosquitos, which spread the disease, before the Portuguese and Nigerian teams arrive on June 11 for the first game in the month-long international competition.
In early May, when Portuguese coach Paulo Bento visited the training center, city officials told him three mosquito-control operations would be carried out before the team arrives on June 11.
"It's a record epidemic. It's bigger than the 11,500 cases registered in all of 2007," Andrea Von Zuben, who is leading the dengue eradication program, told AFP.
Dengue fever, which is transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito, leads to symptoms similar to that of chronic influenza: severe headaches, muscle and joint pain, and vomiting. In some cases, the disease can lead to death. Three people – all women - have died of dengue this year in Campinas.
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Von Zuben said the epidemic was largely due to a heat wave at the start of the year, as well as poor sanitation conditions that help mosquitos to breed. She emphasized that the areas where the Nigerian and Portuguese teams will play will receive special attention from health officials.
"We put larvicides and anti-mosquito poisons at the airport, in the training centers and in the hotels, so the teams will run a much smaller risk than the local population," she said.
Meanwhile, even the Brazilian army is working side-by-side sanitation workers to remove some 83,000 tons of garbage around Campinas, while entire buildings have been sealed off and sprayed.
Campinas is not the only city in Brazil battling dengue fever.
Medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases recently said World Cup host cities Natal, Fortaleza and Recife in the northeast were also prone to an outbreak.
"The possibility of a large dengue fever outbreak during the World Cup, capable of infecting visitors and spreading dengue back to their country of origin, depends on a combination of many factors, including large numbers of mosquitoes, a susceptible population, and a high rate of mosquito-human contact", says lead author Dr Rachel Lowe from the Catalan Institute of Climate Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, as quoted in EurekAlert! newsletter.
According to Dr Lowe, "The ability to provide early warnings of dengue epidemics at the microregion level, three months in advance, is invaluable for reducing or containing an epidemic and will give local authorities the time to combat mosquito populations in those cities with a greater chance of dengue outbreaks."
Unfortunately for the host city, Brazil has witnessed the greatest outbreak of dengue fever than any other country so far this century, with seven million cases reported between 2000 and 2013, AFP reports.
There is no cure for dengue fever, so simple prevention is the recommended course of action.
The World Health Organization has advised that people in infected areas prevent mosquito bites with traditional methods, including window screens, insect repellant and mosquito coils.
At the same time, however, Campinas is also bracing for a stampede of foreign guests, some of whom may be carriers of diseases native to their hometowns.
In order to prevent a different sort of outbreak, Campinas is giving its citizens free vaccinations ahead of the tournament which will see visitors from Africa and Europe, where "polio and measles are still persistent," it said.
Priority will be given to transport workers, staff at restaurants and tourist attractions, and the employees of six major hotels.