Dengue fever is raging in Paraguay, with 13,000 patients crowding public hospitals and 18 deaths this year.
Deputy Health Minister Edgar Gimenez announced Wednesday that all elective surgeries are being suspended to free up beds, and that the public health system wants to hire 2,000 new doctors and nurses to help respond to the epidemic.
It's unfortunate it took deaths to make people eliminate standing water where dengue-bearing mosquitoes breed, he said.
There is no vaccine for so-called bonebreak fever, which causes strong pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. With many patients getting treatment privately, more than 20,000 are thought to be infected overall, said Health Ministry official Ivan Allende.
Paraguay's toll is already higher than in all of 2007, when 17 died of dengue. Last year, Paraguay had 15 deaths, and in 2009 and 2008, suffered no dengue deaths. Neighboring Argentina has reported just one case this year, and dengue infections are down 37 percent in much larger Brazil, where 51 people died and 155,613 cases were reported in January and February of this year.
All three governments have dengue prevention campaigns, especially in subtropical areas where mosquitoes spread more easily. Last year, Brazil's dengue cases jumped 90 percent and deaths nearly doubled as dengue strains spread to where people lacked immunity. Exposure to a single strain of the disease helps create immunity to that particular variant, but subsequent infection by a different strain can cause the sometimes fatal hemorrhagic dengue.
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.