An apparent viral disease causing fever and skin rashes has taken the lives of ten in Venezuela, according to hospital officials. While doctors have ruled out both Ebola and Chikungunya fever, they remain stumped as to what is causing the illness.
According to El Universal, the nation’s largest newspaper, the virus has hit hardest in the northern state of Aragua, where eight people died last week. Maracay’s Central Hospital in the region declared a “state of alarm,” noting that the disease could be either viral or bacterial, but tests have not confirmed its identity. Of the initial eight victims, half were children, all who died less than 72 hours after being admitted to the hospital. One of the ten victims died not in Aragua, but in the capital, Caracas.
All had similar symptoms: fever, “general discomfort,” and rashes. Local10 news also described the symptoms, quoting Venezuelan medical officials, as: “symptoms of fever and spots on the skin, and then produces large blisters and internal and external bleeding… then, very quickly, patients suffer from respiratory failure, liver failure and kidney failure.”
While the fever and rashes caused many to be concerned that the west African Ebola virus had somehow spread to South America, doctors ruled out the possibility through testing.
Complicating matters more, the government of Venezuela is denying the existence of the illness in its entirety. Governor of Aragua Tareck al Aissami, along with President Nicolás Maduro’s press secretary, Delcy Rodríguez, have referred to the disease as a “media disinformation campaign” used to “dishearten the people,” according to BBC. Another government spokesperson described the disease as a “disinformation and terrorism campaign,” refusing to acknowledge medical professionals’ calls for further investigation.
Doctors have demanded the government acknowledge their alarm on the situation. Douglas León Natera, the president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, described the situation as “total alarm” and held the government directly responsible: “there is absolute silence on the part of sanitation authorities of the state, which I understand to mean they know absolutely nothing, because the people in charge of these offices are not doctors and do not know about public health.”
Venezuela’s socialist government has left it bereft of many basic hospital needs, creating a state in which any public health disaster would be an existential threat to the government’s health care system. Heavily dependent on Cuba’s fledgling medical program for personnel, Venezuelans’ lack of everything from latex gloves to hospital gowns has created a surge in emergency procedures like amputations, and debts with drug companies have made it increasingly difficult to acquire basic medicines.