Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mysterious Hemorrhagic Fever Plagues South America

Over the last three weeks, ten citizens of Venezuela—mostly from the state of Aragua (although one did come from Caracas)—have fallen ill to a mysterious disease and died shortly after. The disease appears to cause death within 72 hours of the onset of its more aggressive symptoms. These can include things we normally associate with other hemorrhagic fevers (most pertinently Ebola now), reportedly high fevers, skin rashes and bleeding.

While Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever (VHF) is known to the area, it is not really associated with human-to-human transmission and public health authorities have made it appear as VHF is not suspected in these cases.

The most worrisome part of this outbreak is the number of unknowns combined with what looks to have become a political squabble over the outbreak. While laboratory results are processed, it is yet unknown what is causing these deaths—indeed not even what type of pathogenic agent is known.  It is even unclear if these patients’ cases were related. However, hurting the cause of health officials is the governor’s apparent refusal to accept that there is, in fact, a disease threat, calling the announcement of the deaths a form of “rumors and terrorism”.

With any luck, the causative agent will soon be identified, but the conflict between the local government and health authorities is less certain to be worked out.

---Lauren Sweet

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