It's coming, finally, as we'd feared. Tropical weather, and now a tropical disease! An epidemic outbreak of dengue fever has infected 16,000+ people in Paraguay (that's more than 1,000 km closer to the Equator than here) and killed hundreds. The first cases started appearing in the northeastern provinces of Argentina and soon Paraguayans coming to Argentina and Argentinians returning from a visit to Paraguay brought it to the central areas. There are more than 126 confirmed cases in the country, half of those in Buenos Aires City and around. In Rosario we have (I think, today) seven suspected cases and one confirmed.
Dengue is a disease similar to a strong flu, which causes headaches, muscular and joint aches, nausea, and fever. It's transmitted by Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito. A. aegypti is not commonly found on this latitude, but I believe at least three of the cases in Buenos Aires are autoctonous, i.e. were contracted by human-mosquito-human transmission there, and not brought from Paraguay. The confirmed case in Rosario was infected during vacations in Buzios, Brazil (there are thousands of cases in southern Brazil as well).
Dengue has no specific treatment: people simply have to rest and keep drinking fluids, while the fever and the pain are treated with paracetamol-related drugs (paracetamol is known as acetaminophen in the U.S.), since the disease can have a haemorrhagic variant and you can't use the usual non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (paracetamol is also much cheaper — but it can kill your liver). Patients must be isolated in order to prevent transmission, i.e. so that mosquitoes don't bite them and carry the disease elsewhere.
I haven't seen Aedes aegypti here, though I haven't been looking; they say it's noticeably different from the common local mosquitoes. There are a lot of those anyway. You have to consider that the Paraná River has a huge floodplain, full of shallow canals, marshes and other places with lots of vegetation and stagnant water, a perfect breeding ground. We've always had a lot of mosquitoes in the summer, but lately they're appearing in October and lasting until April or even May, and they're big and nasty.
The mosquitoes are not going away. Pharmacies and supermarkets have noted that mosquito repellents have flown from the isles and the manufacturers are seemingly unable to cope with the demand. You can apply some cream or use an airborne repellent in your room at home, you can close off all openings with physical barriers, but you can't do anything while you're outside. Jogging along the coast the other day, my buddy and I observed that the moment we stopped to stretch, we were attacked by swarms of little bloodthirsty monsters. There are mosquitoes inside my office, and in the bus, and in the street while you're having a cup of coffee in a café.
The municipality has been spreading insecticide around, but it's not enough. Somebody in the radio today proposed we should breed dragonflies to eat the mosquitoes. Dragonflies, which are traditionally considered a sign that a rainstorm is about to come (at least that's what my parents passed down from my grandads), are repulsive when you see them up close, but they don't bite. I saw one flying inside the bus this morning as I went to work. I don't know if they actually feed on mosquitoes, but I know the weather tradition is grounded in reality, as it's been raining on and off for four of five days in a row.
So we have constant rain, mosquitoes and a tropical disease. What's next? Women wearing as little clothing as possible, pineapple drinks in the beach, a world-class carnival? You wish.