Puerto Rico's health secretary acknowledged Tuesday that an epidemic of dengue fever exists on the Caribbean island, where six people have died of the virus so far this year.

Lorenzo Gonzalez told WQK radio that a dengue epidemic was declared in Puerto Rico based on the latest figures provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC's latest dengue report for the week of Sept. 9-15 said that 342 cases have been reported, a number above the epidemic threshold, the health secretary said.

He said that so far this year six deaths have been reported out of 21 cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever, the most severe form of the illness.

Gonzalez's explanations came after Puerto Rican media complained about the Health Department's inaction in failing to officially declare the epidemic despite an alarming surge in the number of cases on the island.

"The most important thing here is that we don't have any additional deaths to regret. So now let's do all the right things to protect ourselves, our families and the community," Gonzalez said.

He said the latest fatalities were two children living in metropolitan San Juan.

Gonzalez also stressed that if a person suffers symptoms he or she should not wait three or four days to see a doctor, and recalled that the dengue virus is treatable.

The last dengue epidemic in Puerto Rico was in 2010, a year that ended with 20 deaths from the virus.

Health Department recommendations for preventing the virus include removing unnecessary containers that accumulate water in the home, inspecting the area around dwellings to identify and eliminate breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and fumigating inside the home. EFE