In Venezuela, doctor flees after being accused of terrorism amid fever outbreak

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This article by Lizzie Wade appeared in Here’s an excerpt. For the full report follow the link below.

Eleven days after news broke that an unknown disease had killed eight people in the city of Maracay, Venezuela, doctors have concluded that the deaths were caused by chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus. Meanwhile, Ángel Sarmiento, the doctor who first announced the deaths, has fled the country after being accused of terrorism by President Nicolás Maduro.

Although officials initially speculated that the deaths were caused by an unknown hemorrhagic fever, six of the eight original fatalities tested positive for chikungunya when samples were analyzed in nongovernmental labs, says Julio Castro, the health minister of the municipality of Sucre and a professor in the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). “We don’t think these deaths are due to an unknown or rare disease,” he told ScienceInsider, adding that “I have no doubt” that chikungunya is responsible.

[. . .]

In a press conference on Monday, Castro and two other health professionals—Gustavo Villasmil, health minister of the state of Miranda, and Manuel Olivares, a doctor at UCV’s hospital—estimated that between 65,000 and 117,000 people in Venezuela are infected with chikungunya. [. . . ] But it is dramatically higher than the official tallies released by Venezuela’s federal health ministry, which recognizes just 398 cases of chikungunya and three deaths.

Many infectious diseases, including malaria and dengue, are on the rise in Venezuela, where the public health system has been crippled by a lack of funds and medicine (including antifever drugs that can help treat the symptoms of chikungunya). Sarmiento’s comments about the deaths in Maracay appear to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to criticism of the government’s public health record, Villasmil says. Now facing prosecution, Sarmiento fled to an undisclosed location in Central America. Villasmil and Castro remain in Venezuela but have left their homes after participating in the press conference, as a precaution against retaliation.

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