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Letter from the editor | 142

Against perverse circles and cycles

It may sound a bit odd and rather disturbing: we started and ended 2007 with dengue fever on the cover of Pesquisa Fapesp. This raises an unavoidable question, i.e., whether this disease has become so important to the Brazilian public health scene, or so challenging for Brazilian researchers dedicated to epidemics and tropical diseases, to fully justify this in editorial terms. Before providing a peremptory answer, let us look at the data: in December 2006, when official statistics indicated 300 thousand cases and 61 deaths in that year up to October, it was expected that January 2007 would bring in its wake the fear of a new dengue epidemic in Brazil, perhaps not as severe as the one in 2002, when reported cases reached almost 800 thousand, but an epidemic nevertheless. Meanwhile, the year was nearing its end with fine scientific-technological news about the future control  and frontal combat of  this disease. For instance, a system for tracking the Aedes aegypti combined with a trap designed to lure  pregnant mosquitoes,  or the development of a sterile genetically modified Aedes.

However, by November 2007, the official statistics showed a 40% increase in the reported dengue cases from January to September versus all of 2006. Here are the figures: 2006 ended with almost 346 thousand cases of common dengue, 682 cases of DHF (dengue hemorrhagic fever) and 76 deaths, whereas by September 2007,   slightly over 481 thousand cases of common dengue had been reported, as well as 1,071 cases of DHF and 121 deaths. The Ministry of Health, however, was celebrating a drop in the disease in the Brazilian regions most susceptible to it being spread . If in November of 2006 the susceptible regions were inhabited by10.4 million people, after this fall, they were the territory of 3.8 million Brazilians.

It is important, at this point, to learn that researchers from several fields of expertise are working hard, often together with the National Dengue Control Program, to beat the disease back to its magnitude of some 20 years ago, which was close to nil. They are entomologists, physicians, mathematicians and epidemiologists that come together to find out more about how the mosquito behaves, discover more efficient chemicals to kill larvae, or monitor epidemics more efficiently, among other measures, as Maria Guimarães, our assistant science editor, tells us starting on page 40. There are other professionals working on the development of vaccines, as Fabrício Marques, our special editor, tells us starting on page 46. Nonetheless, one can say that yes, from the point of view of public health, the risk of the dengue situations worsening in Brazil is still very high. And it continues to be a disease which poses a major research challenge. Hence our featuring dengue on our cover again, just eleven months after casting the limelight upon this subject.

I would like to say, in the limited space left, given the number of words I dedicated to dengue, that one cannot fail to read this edition’s surprising article on plastic by Dinorah Ereno, our assistant technology editor, about environment-friendly plastic made from ethanol, which some large companies in Brazil have started producing (page 66). The same applies to the article by Carlos Haag, our humanities editor, showing why hip-hop is a strong expression of the political and ideological stand of youngsters living in the impoverished outskirts of Brazilian cities and why it functions as a statement of their social existence (page 80). The interview with sanitation expert Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva (page 10), conducted by Claudia Izique and Ricardo Zorzetto, our respective editors of policy and science, is also a must. We owed our readers an interview with this notable character from Brazil’s scientific and political arena. And closing this issue a delightful piece: editor Marcos Pivetta’s article on the French chemist that wants to change the way we cook (page 56). A good year-end to all of you!