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Health officials in Brazil issued a warning about widespread cases of dengue fever just as hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Rio de Janeiro and other cities for the annual Carnival celebration, which reaches its climax today.

Carnival will soon be over, but dengue will remain a hazard for travelers to Brazil and other parts of the Americas, experts say.

Rio officials declared a health emergency last week about dengue, a tropical disease that is carried by mosquitoes and can cause symptoms ranging from fever to death. In 2024, Brazil has already reported at least 10,000 cases of dengue fever.

Dr. Mark Fischer, regional medical director at health security and risk management firm International SOS, tells Recommend that the seriousness of the dengue warning for travelers to Brazil depends on various factors, such as the individual’s health condition and the severity of the outbreak in the specific region they plan to visit.

“Dengue is something that those traveling to Rio should keep in mind,” says Fischer. “There has been a significant increase in dengue infections recorded in Brazil compared to this time last year, and it’s a concern both in urban and rural areas.”

In a travel advisory updated on Feb. 9, 2024, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that dengue is a risk in many parts of Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean, calling out Brazil and 15 other nations currently reporting high numbers of dengue cases.

Mitigate the Risk When Traveling to Brazil

“While dengue fever can be a serious illness, especially for certain populations such as pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems, many travelers can mitigate the risk by taking appropriate precautions,” Fischer says, such as:

  • Applying insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, PMD, or IR3535 on exposed skin and clothing.
  • Wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and closed-toe shoes, especially during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Checking accommodations to ensure that windows are covered with screens or fly-wire and use “knock-down” insect spray to kill any mosquitoes in your room. Also be sure to choose an accommodation that has air-conditioning if possible.
  • Eliminating mosquito breeding sites by removing standing water around your accommodation and in your immediate surroundings.
  • Have a travel health consultation before your trip to discuss your personal risk of dengue, and ways to prevent it, including vaccination.

Fischer says that if symptoms of dengue fever develop, such as high fever, severe headache, joint and muscle pain, rash or mild bleeding, travelers should seek immediate medical attention, which is essential for early diagnosis and treatment.

“It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of infection and understand how to navigate the healthcare system should it need to be accessed,” he says. “The level of care will vary in different parts of the country.”