April 7th, 2008
06:39 PM ET

Gunfire and mosquito bites


CNN's Harris Whitbeck tours Rio de Janeiro's most violent slum, which is ground zero in the dengue fever epidemic.

The shots rang out just as I had finished greeting a motherly, smiling shopkeeper in front of her storefront in the Caxias district of Rio de Janeiro.  For a brief second, I was taken back to Baghdad, where gunfire at all times of the day or night is commonplace.  As it turns out, it is just as commonplace in the densely populated slums that surround Rio.

I never knew if the shots were fired by police or by the notorious drug gangs that control many of Rio’s slums- I was told gang members have lookouts at the edges of their neighborhoods on the watch for police- and that they fire warning shots to let other gang members know when an incursion is about to take place.


Filed under: Dengue Fever • Harris Whitbeck
April 7th, 2008
08:23 AM ET

Brazil's Dengue fever epidemic

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/07/art.dengue.jpg caption="Suspected of being affected by dengue fever, three-year-old Maria Eduarda Lopes receives medical treatment at an Air Force hospital near downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian military set up three field hospitals to help treat people suspect of being affected by the dengue fever. The dengue fever is a tropical virus disease transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which in extreme cases can cause hemorrhage and death. No vaccine is yet commercially available"]

Covering any story of death and disaster is hard. Reporting on the death of a ten year old boy is especially difficult.

But the death of young Israel Marques of hemorrhagic fever in Rio de Janeiro is just one of many I've heard about in reporting on the dengue epidemic in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro- the “cidade maravilhosa,” better known for its lively partying and joie de vivre, is facing somber times.

I spent the better part of today at one of three military field hospitals set up around the city. Hundreds of worried people came in and out, complaining of intense headaches and bone-crunching fevers. The latent concern, that there is really nothing much you can do to either prevent dengue or to fight it once it is in your system. The only act of prevention is slathering your exposed skin with DEET repellent- which, if it doesn’t melt your skin off, will keep the dengue-bearing mosquitoes at bay.

The more far-reaching concern, and one that gave pause for thought as I hung out at the field hospital, was on the underlying causes of the largest dengue outbreak Brazil has ever experienced- that the epidemic could have been brought on by humanity itself.

The Pan American Health Organization explicitly blames urban sprawl and climate change for the development of dengue epidemics. Overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions provide fertile breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and heavy rains provide the heat and humidity they thrive on. Yes, poverty and global warming cause sickness and death.

Apparently so does violence- there are reports that violent drug gangs that control the slums around Rio are preventing sanitation authorities from fumigating their neighborhoods- but more on that later.

– Harris Whitbeck, CNN international correspondent

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Filed under: Dengue Fever