By Daniela Desantis
ASUNCION (Reuters) – Paraguayan health officials said on Friday that dengue deaths had increased to 16 in the country's worst disease outbreak in South America in the past decade, severely affecting its health system.
There are also 89 deaths under analysis to determine whether they were caused by dengue. The number of deaths indicates a sharp increase over the previous week, when the Ministry of Public Health recorded six deaths from dengue with another 50 deaths under review since the beginning of the year.
The outbreak prompted the Senate to request a 90-day health emergency, which is expected to pass the House of Representatives on Monday. The government said the emergency measure is not necessary and that it has adequate resources to deal with it.
Cases of dengue, a mosquito-borne virus, usually increase in the summer months between January and March, when mosquito activity is at its peak. The number of dengue cases tends to decrease gradually in late March.
Health officials said there were 85,000 cases of dengue in Paraguay, compared to 57,000 cases last week.
"We have an increase, but it has slowed down in the last two weeks of the epidemic," Public Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni told reporters.
"We have reached a point of stability and we hope that from there we will quickly enter a gradual decline," added Mazzoleni.
The Ministry said the number of cases in the first weeks of 2020 was the highest in the past decade.
The death toll, however, remains below 250 from a 2013 epidemic.
Clinics in the capital Asunción, which has more than three quarters of confirmed cases in the country, are packed with patients with high fever and headaches, the main symptoms of dengue.
"I understand that the demand is high. We warn about the magnitude that the epidemic could have," said Mazzoleni, addressing the problems in crowded clinics.
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis; writing by Marina Lammertyn; editing by Bill Berkrot)