The social and economic impact of an outbreak of dengue

Date of Completion

January 1992


Anthropology, Cultural|Women's Studies|Health Sciences, General|Health Sciences, Public Health




This study documented the social, economic and psychosocial impact of the 1990 outbreak of dengue in Lares, a rural municipality in Puerto Rico. It utilized a combined quantitative/qualitative methodological approach.^ Symptomatology presented by reported cases corresponded to the clinical picture of the mild form of the dengue virus. The social impact of the outbreak was greater for the female head of the households and their children, and households in the urban and semi-rural areas. Female heads of households experienced the greatest loss of time. Their own illness and the illness of other family members disrupted and delayed their activities at home and outside. Social expectations and the family's demands for their role as caretakers superseded those of their own sick role. In addition to the stress induced by the experience of being ill, female heads of households experienced other stressors. Mobilization of sources of social support within and outside the household minimized the consequences of its impact on the household.^ The economic impact for households was estimated in work time lost, income lost and health care expenses. Loss of income was the main consequence of time lost from salaried work for both personal illness and for providing care to sick household members. The main consequence of the unsalaried work activities not trad itionally remunerated with money such as housework, was the inability of female heads to perform their routine activities to maintain family life. The monetary costs of health care absorbed a significant percentage of the household weekly income. The consequence of the economic impact appeared to be more significant for households in marginal urban communities with scarce economic resources, already struggling for economic survival.^ In sum, although the outbreak was experienced for a relatively short period of time, it interfered with the family, work and social life of the households affected. The impact of the outbreak, however, had reversible consequences and recoverable costs which are also probably associated with other common viral infections. The implications of salient results for dengue prevention and control, and for the field of applied medical anthropology were discussed. ^