CDC-Supported Study Launches to Track Infectious Diseases in Central America & Caribbean

Belize, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic Aim to Better Report and Respond to Acute Febrile Illnesses

Press Release

For Immediate Release: Monday, October 21, 2019
Contact: Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

To better understand, detect and respond to emerging infectious disease threats such as dengue, chikungunya, Zika, Chagas disease, and malaria, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is supporting studies to better understand acute febrile illnesses (AFIs) in Belize, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. AFIs are characterized by a rapid onset of fever and symptoms such as headache, diarrhea, chills or muscle and joint pain, cough or other respiratory symptoms. AFIs are one of the most common reasons people seek health care and can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites or fungi that people inhale, eat or drink from contaminated food or water, or are exposed to by contact with animals, including insects.

CDC has convened a multi-disciplinary international team of experts to support ministries of health in Belize, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic in developing a surveillance network to rapidly identify and track AFIs. The team, including CDC, Baylor College of Medicine, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will create the network using a coordinated approach to detect and manage disease threats. Understanding the causes of AFIs helps healthcare providers make better diagnoses and provide more appropriate treatments. Currently, many people with AFIs don’t receive a confirmed diagnosis, and these studies can help better define what is causing illness and may even identify new causes of illness that were previously not recognized. This is especially important because if an AFI outbreak occurs, it has the potential to overwhelm public health systems in a matter of weeks.

“The current widespread and severe outbreak of dengue that’s spreading across Guatemala and other Central American countries underscores the urgent need for the studies and surveillance network,” said Dr. Emily Zielinski-Gutierrez, director of the CDC-Central America Regional Office. According to the latest Pan American Health Organization dataexternal icon, Guatemala has reported more than 35,000 cases of dengue so far in 2019 and the Dominican Republic more than 12,000 cases, resulting in 78 reported deaths this year from the two countries. “The development of a comprehensive surveillance system that improves the timeliness and effectiveness of detecting and responding to infectious disease threats is critical to reducing the impact and spread of disease within and across borders and ultimately improving health outcomes among vulnerable populations in the Central America and Caribbean region and globally,” concluded Dr. Zielinski-Gutierrez.

During the study period, people who report to a healthcare facility within the surveillance network with symptoms of an AFI will be asked to provide consent to allow information about their (or their child’s) age, gender, symptoms, and results of diagnostic tests to be entered into the surveillance system. Investing in surveillance can help policymakers and public health practitioners better understand the burden of infectious diseases, the factors associated with AFIs, and the risks that AFIs pose to their populations. Surveillance data can make public health response more effective and efficient, as well as help focus resources on areas that can have the greatest impact on improving health, safety and security within and beyond national borders.

About CDC
CDC works 24/7 protecting America’s health, safety and security. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are curable or preventable, chronic or acute, or from human activity or deliberate attack, CDC responds to the nation’s most pressing health threats. CDC is headquartered in Atlanta and has experts located throughout the United States and the world. CDC’s Center for Global Health works with partners to tackle AFIs and to produce the greatest global health impact.

About Baylor College of Medicine

Baylor College of Medicine (www.bcm.eduexternal icon) in Houston is recognized as health sciences university and is known for excellence in education, research and patient care. It is the only private medical school in the greater southwest and is ranked 22nd among medical schools for research and 4th for primary care by U.S. News & World Report. Located in the Texas Medical Center, Baylor has affiliations with seven teaching hospitals and jointly owns and operates Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, part of CHI St. Luke’s Health. Currently, Baylor has more than 3,000 trainees in medical, graduate, nurse anesthesia, physician assistant, orthotics and genetic counseling as well as residents and postdoctoral fellows.

About Universidad del Valle de Guatemala

The Center for Health Studies (CHS) is one of 11 centers within the Research Institute at Universidad del Valle de Guatemalaexternal icon (UVG) that aims to produce research outcomes relevant to the development of the country.  UVG is a private university that was founded in 1966 to advance modern science, technology, and education, and has collaborated with the U.S. CDC-Central American Region office and the National Ministry of Health for more than 40 years. CHS conducts training and research that aims to contribute to the welfare of the population, and supports capacity building in public health in collaboration with strategic partners. CHS research on infectious diseases combines field and laboratory activities in a multidisciplinary manner.

About Brigham and Women’s Hospital

The Brigham and Women’s Hospitalexternal icon is a primary Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and a global leader in clinical care and biomedical research. Based in Boston, Brigham and Women’s Hospital operates the second largest hospital-based research program in the world, addressing a range of basic science, clinical and public health topics including infectious diseases outbreaks and other health emergencies. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital partners with a number of Harvard institutions including the Infectious Diseases and Epidemics Program of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Harvard Medical School.


CDC works 24/7 protecting America’s health, safety and security. Whether disease start at home or abroad, are curable or preventable, chronic or acute, or from human activity or deliberate attack, CDC responds to America’s most pressing health threats. CDC is headquartered in Atlanta and has experts located throughout the United States and the world.

Page last reviewed: January 4, 2018