updated 4/8/2009 7:35:45 PM ET 2009-04-08T23:35:45

Health Minister Graciela Ocana said Wednesday that a dengue outbreak in the country has worsened to an epidemic, as nearly 8,000 people are officially reported to be infected with the disease.

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"Dengue is here to stay," Ocana said.

Ocana had previously insisted that there was no epidemic. But local news media and political leaders in towns and cities affected by the mosquito-borne disease claimed the national government was underreporting the numbers to calm fears and avoid blame for not addressing the problem sooner.

While the Health Ministry says the northern province of Chaco — one of the worst hit — has registered 3,590 cases, Amalsi Ruiz, a spokesman for the provincial town of Charata, said nearly four times as many people are infected, based on house-to-house surveys and hospital visits. 5 deadly infections

The Ministry said there are 7,869 cases throughout the country — up from around 5,800 on Friday.

Dengue can incapacitate patients with severe headaches, joint pains, high fever and nausea. There is no specific medication to treat it, but authorities recommend consulting a doctor and drinking plenty of fluids.

Six people have died, including three infected with the severe hemorrhagic variant, which accounts for a fraction of dengue cases.

"This is a problem that we should confront and which we are confronting," Ocana said, adding that the national sanitary service is mobilized and combatting the epidemic.

The Health Ministry has launched a national campaign to educate people on dengue prevention, including wearing insect repellant and covering exposed body parts with thick clothing.

Authorities say Argentina's worst outbreak since the disease reappeared in the country in 1997 is linked to an epidemic in neighboring Bolivia, which has registered 51,000 cases.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito carries the disease. Most cases are not fatal.

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