San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica’s Caribbean at Risk for Disease

After days of record rain, the Caribbean is vulnerable to dengue fever and other diseases, health authorities say.

People wading in flooded areas risk contracting leptospirosis, a bacterial disease caused by contact with animal urine. The Caribbean’s Limón is also the province most susceptible to dengue, a viral disease spread by mosquitoes that lay eggs in pools of still water.

“As soon as the water recedes, we will begin to see the full problem in Limón,” said Health Minister María Luisa Avila.

Rains have pounded Limón this month and last, hitting the cantons of Matina and Talamanca the hardest.

Leptospirosis and dengue have similar symptoms, including high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches and vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dengue hemorrhagic fever, a more series form of the disease, can be fatal. While leptospirosis should be treated with antibiotics, there is no medication for dengue. Those infected should rest and drink fluids.

As of Nov. 15, some 52 hemorrhagic dengue cases and 7,378 classic dengue cases had been reported for the year, according to the Health Ministry. About 230 cases of leptospirosis have been reported this year.

The Health Ministry is now advising people to wear rubber boots to protect from exposure to contaminated water. People should also treat or boil their water before drinking it, said María Ethel Trejos, who works for the ministry.

In rural areas, some families without access to aqueducts are drawing water from holes in the ground, which can be easily contaminated with feces and pesticides after flooding. The Spanish government is donating $45,000 to buy kits to test groundwater and the water in aqueducts in flooded areas, said Carlos Samayoa, the Pan American Health Organization representative here.

The organization is also negotiating prices for the Costa Rican government to buy 500 kilograms of Abate, a chemical that kills the larvae of mosquitoes and helps prevent dengue, Samayoa said.

Flooding often causes snakes and rats living in the countryside to seek refuge in houses, leading to an increase in bites and diseases, Trejos said.

Areas with lots of garbage are especially vulnerable to outbreaks of dengue because infected mosquitoes like to lay eggs in rainwater amid the trash, Trejos added.

Fearing garbage could cause a dengue outbreak in Limón city, Avila shut down an October carnival there for the second year in a row. Limón’s streets are lined with garbage because the nearest landfill is 100 kilometers away.

Limón mayor Eduardo Barboza said the city is preparing to build a new landfill 10 kilometers from town. The land will cost about $276,000 and construction will cost another $363,636. The Planning Ministry (MIDEPLAN) will shoulder part of the cost, said ministry spokesman César Barrantes.


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