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Dengue fever outbreak in Argentina leads to shortage of a must-have item: mosquito repellent

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Dengue fever outbreak in Argentina leads to shortage of a must-have item: mosquito repellent
News

News

Dengue fever outbreak in Argentina leads to shortage of a must-have item: mosquito repellent

2024-04-09 13:43 Last Updated At:14:20

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Shelves have gone empty, as residents hunt in vain and resort to DIY alternatives. And surging resale prices are shocking even to Argentines accustomed to triple-digit inflation. The country’s latest crisis: There isn’t enough mosquito repellent.

As the South American country contends with its worst outbreak of dengue fever in recent memory, bug spray has become this season’s hot-ticket item. So hot that it's sold out in virtually all Buenos Aires stores and going for exorbitant prices online, in some cases as much as 10 times the retail value.

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A public health worker fumigates as part of a campaign against dengue-promoting mosquitoes, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Shelves have gone empty, as residents hunt in vain and resort to DIY alternatives. And surging resale prices are shocking even to Argentines accustomed to triple-digit inflation. The country’s latest crisis: There isn’t enough mosquito repellent.

Patients with dengue symptoms wait to be attended at a hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Patients with dengue symptoms wait to be attended at a hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A guard sprays insecticide inside a hospital area where patients with dengue symptoms wait to be attended in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A guard sprays insecticide inside a hospital area where patients with dengue symptoms wait to be attended in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A piece of paper with a message that reads in Spanish: "There is no repellent" is taped to a storefront in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, April 4, 2024. An increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A piece of paper with a message that reads in Spanish: "There is no repellent" is taped to a storefront in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, April 4, 2024. An increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A woman sprays herself with a makeshift mosquito repellant of vanilla and water as she waits to be attended at a hospital amid a surge in dengue fever cases, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A woman sprays herself with a makeshift mosquito repellant of vanilla and water as she waits to be attended at a hospital amid a surge in dengue fever cases, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

“We’ve been to at least 30 pharmacies all over the city and there is nothing left,” Ana Infante said as she swatted mosquitoes away from her two small daughters, their arms visibly pocked with red bumps. Infante, 42, joined the frenzied race for repellent when her co-worker at an empanada shop fell seriously ill with dengue last week.

“All we have is this,” she said, raising her swatting hand.

Rampant hoarding and surging prices have stoked desperation. In one widely shared video from a market in the town of El Talar outside the capital Thursday, shoppers are seen descending on an employee opening new boxes of bug spray, snatching up stock before he could place a single bottle on a shelf.

“I feel helpless, because I know I can’t do anything,” said Marta Velarde, a 65-year-old shop owner in Buenos Aires, recalling how a distraught customer recently threatened to punch her in the face when she broke the news she had no repellent left. “You have no explanation and people are very aggressive.”

As public outrage mounted and the repellent shortage evolved from nuisance to national news, the government — busy battling sky-high inflation and near-daily protests — was forced to intervene. On Thursday, authorities lifted import restrictions on foreign-made mosquito repellents to boost supply and announced they would ramp up production at local labs.

“We spoke with producers who told us that they have changed their capacity to produce, they are doing it at their maximum capacity,” Health Minister Mario Russo told the local Telefé channel Thursday in his first TV appearance since the dengue outbreak. When asked how Argentines should protect themselves in the meantime, he offered a warning that was instantly mocked on social media:

“Be careful with shorts," he said.

The dengue virus has exploded across Latin America over the past muggy weeks of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

The mosquito-borne illness has long been endemic in countries like Brazil and Colombia, but experts warn the worsening outbreak in Argentina means the Aedes aegypti mosquito has widened its range. Dengue infections in Argentina have soared to over 180,500 this season, according to health authorities, including 129 deaths. That’s six times higher than last season’s count, which was already the worst on record.

Health experts attribute the dengue surge to multiple factors, including the El Niño ocean warming effect and climate change. Recent drenching rains that flooded Buenos Aires have created ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

“Transmission never stopped in the previous season, because less cold winters are favorable for adult mosquitoes,” said Susana Lloveras, a specialist at the Francisco Javier Muñiz Infectious Diseases Hospital in Buenos Aires. “The magnitude is really worrisome, because there is a lot of demand on our health system."

The dengue problem has been exacerbated by the nationwide run on repellant. Political opponents of Libertarian President Javier Milei’s have used the repellent crisis to criticize the government’s push to deregulate the economy and scrap price controls.

Pharmacists across Buenos Aires — fed up with fielding calls about repellent supply — have put signs on their doors telling customers not to bother.

In an online Buenos Aires forum on Reddit that normally is preoccupied with soccer match tickets, many users now focus on where to procure scarce repellant. “I am willing to pay dearly,” read one seeker's post Thursday from northwest Argentina.

Since February, wholesalers have hiked prices and some Argentines have stockpiled repellent to resell when stories run out. Now most lotions and sprays online fetch between $20 and $40 — five or 10 times the original market price.

“It's just outrageous,” said 53-year-old Adrián Contrares, a seller of Gaucho-themed knickknacks at his neighborhood park in northern Buenos Aires. “That's a day's wage. Who can afford that? Who would spend that?”

Contrares and other Argentines are resorting to homespun methods to keep bugs away. He sets egg cartons alight and tosses citronella incense sticks into tiny crackling fires. Smoke, claimed 60-year-old baker Pablo Vulgo, is nature’s best repellent. An 8-year-old eavesdropper on a bike quickly chimed in, explaining his mom’s technique of mixing coffee grounds with garlic cloves to fend off the flying insects.

Buenos Aires' municipal health minister, Fernán Quirós, hosted a dengue prevention workshop last week in a crowded shantytown where sanitation is poor and mosquitoes abound. Instagram videos show him instructing residents how to make repellent at home with heaps of herbs and boiled essential oil, both well beyond their purchasing power.

And the final step? “Cover and let it rest for 40 days.”

Natacha Pisarenko in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.

A public health worker fumigates as part of a campaign against dengue-promoting mosquitoes, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A public health worker fumigates as part of a campaign against dengue-promoting mosquitoes, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Patients with dengue symptoms wait to be attended at a hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Patients with dengue symptoms wait to be attended at a hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A guard sprays insecticide inside a hospital area where patients with dengue symptoms wait to be attended in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A guard sprays insecticide inside a hospital area where patients with dengue symptoms wait to be attended in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A piece of paper with a message that reads in Spanish: "There is no repellent" is taped to a storefront in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, April 4, 2024. An increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A piece of paper with a message that reads in Spanish: "There is no repellent" is taped to a storefront in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, April 4, 2024. An increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A woman sprays herself with a makeshift mosquito repellant of vanilla and water as she waits to be attended at a hospital amid a surge in dengue fever cases, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A woman sprays herself with a makeshift mosquito repellant of vanilla and water as she waits to be attended at a hospital amid a surge in dengue fever cases, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 5, 2024. A nationwide increase in dengue fever cases as resulted in the demand for repellents to avoid the bite of the mosquito that transmits the disease, causing a shortage and exorbitant prices where available. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

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Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who skewered fast food industry, dies at 53

2024-05-24 23:38 Last Updated At:23:40

NEW YORK (AP) — Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, an Oscar nominee whose most famous works skewered America's food industry and who notably ate only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53.

Spurlock died Thursday in New York from complications of cancer, according to a statement issued Friday by his family.

“It was a sad day, as we said goodbye to my brother Morgan,” Craig Spurlock, who worked with him on several projects, said in the statement. “Morgan gave so much through his art, ideas, and generosity. The world has lost a true creative genius and a special man. I am so proud to have worked together with him.”

Spurlock made a splash in 2004 with his groundbreaking film “Super Size Me,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film chronicled the detrimental physical and psychological effects of Spurlock eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days. He gained about 25 pounds, saw a spike in his cholesterol and lost his sex drive.

“Everything’s bigger in America,” he said in the film. “We’ve got the biggest cars, the biggest houses, the biggest companies, the biggest food, and finally: the biggest people.”

In one scene, Spurlock showed kids a photo of George Washington and none recognized the Founding Father. But they all instantly knew the mascots for Wendy’s and McDonald’s.

The film grossed more than $22 million on a $65,000 budget and preceded the release of Eric Schlosser’s influential “Fast Food Nation,” which accused the industry of being bad for the environment and rife with labor issues.

Spurlock returned in 2019 with “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” — a sober look at an industry that processes 9 billion animals a year in America. He focused on two issues: chicken farmers stuck in a peculiar financial system and the attempt by fast-food chains to deceive customers into thinking they’re eating healthier.

“We’re at an amazing moment in history from a consumer standpoint where consumers are starting to have more and more power,” he told The Associated Press in 2019. “It’s not about return for the shareholders. It’s about return for the consumers.”

Spurlock was a gonzo-like filmmaker who leaned into the bizarre and ridiculous. His stylistic touches included zippy graphics and amusing music, blending a Michael Moore-ish camera-in-your-face style with his own sense of humor and pathos.

“I wanted to be able to lean into the serious moments. I wanted to be able to breathe in the moments of levity. We want to give you permission to laugh in the places where it’s really hard to laugh,” he told the AP.

After he exposed the fast-food and chicken industries, there was an explosion in restaurants stressing freshness, artisanal methods, farm-to-table goodness and ethically sourced ingredients. But nutritionally not much had changed.

“There has been this massive shift and people say to me, ‘So has the food gotten healthier?’ And I say, ‘Well, the marketing sure has,’” he said.

Not all his work dealt with food. Spurlock made documentaries about the boy band One Direction and the geeks and fanboys at Comic-Con. One of his films looked at life behind bars at the Henrico County Jail in Virginia.

With 2008's “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” Spurlock went on a global search to find the al-Qaida leader, who was killed in 2011. In “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Spurlock tackled questions of product placement, marketing and advertising.

“Being aware is half the battle, I think. Literally knowing all the time when you’re being marketed to is a great thing,” Spurlock told AP at the time. “A lot of people don’t realize it. They can’t see the forest for the trees."

“Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” was to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 but it was shelved at the height of the #MeToo movement when Spurlock came forward to detail his own history of sexual misconduct.

He confessed that he had been accused of rape while in college and had settled a sexual harassment case with a female assistant. He also admitted to cheating on numerous partners. “I am part of the problem,” he wrote.

“For me, there was a moment of kind of realization — as somebody who is a truth-teller and somebody who has made it a point of trying to do what’s right — of recognizing that I could do better in my own life. We should be able to admit we were wrong,” he told the AP.

Spurlock grew up in Beckley, West Virginia. His mother was an English teacher who he remembered would correct his work with a red pen. He graduated with a BFA in film from New York University in 1993.

He is survived by two sons — Laken and Kallen; his mother Phyllis Spurlock; father Ben; brothers Craig and Barry; and former spouses Alexandra Jamieson and Sara Bernstein, the mothers of his children.

Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

FILE - Morgan Spurlock of the CNN series "Inside Man" poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock of the CNN series "Inside Man" poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Morgan Spurlock from the film "Focus Forward" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge on Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Morgan Spurlock from the film "Focus Forward" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge on Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock arrives at the premiere of "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock arrives at the premiere of "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me," Thursday night, April 22, 2004, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me," Thursday night, April 22, 2004, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in New York. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in New York. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

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