By Daniela Desantis
ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguay health officials said on Friday that deaths from dengue fever increased to 16 in the South American country's worst outbreak of the disease in the last decade, severely straining its health system.
There are also 89 deaths under review to determine if they were caused by dengue. The death toll indicates a sharp increase from the previous week, when the Public Health Ministry registered six deaths from dengue with 50 other deaths under review since the start of the year.
The outbreak led the Senate to call for a 90-day health emergency, which is expected to be endorsed by the Chamber of Deputies on Monday. The government has said the emergency measure is not necessary and that it has adequate resources to cope.
Cases of dengue, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, typically increase in the summer months between January and March, when mosquito activity is at a peak. Numbers of dengue cases tend to gradually decrease toward the end of March.
Health officials said there were 85,000 cases of dengue fever in Paraguay, up from 57,000 cases last week.
"We have an increase, but it has slowed down in the last two weeks of the epidemic," Public Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni told journalists.
"We have approached a point of stability and hope that from there we go quickly into a gradual decline," Mazzoleni added.
The Ministry said the number of cases in the first weeks of 2020 were the highest in the last decade.
The death toll, however, remains lower than the 250 from a 2013 epidemic.
Clinics in the capital city Asuncion, which has more than three quarters of the country's confirmed cases, are crowded with patients with high fevers and headaches, the main symptoms of dengue.
"I understand that the demand is high. We warned about the magnitude that the epidemic could have," Mazzoleni said, addressing the issues in crowded clinics.
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Writing by Marina Lammertyn; Editing by Bill Berkrot)