September 23, 2017

Deadly dengue fever on the rise

By May Thet Hnin

A health worker fumigates a classroom to kill mosquitoes that spread dengue fever.  Photo: Aye Min Soe

The number of cases of dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) has dramatically increased over the last five months due to climate change, increased breeding rates of mosquitoes and improper water storage, said Dr. Zaw Lin, a dengue specialist and deputy director of the department of public health.
Between 1 January and 27 May this year, 3,304 patients were infected with the fever, 19 of whom died. Among them, around 2,000 patients were from the Yangon region and about 750 were from Rakhine State. The viral disease that is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes used to be common only in the rainy season, but now DHF transmission occurs throughout the year, officials said.
The occurrence of DHF this year was seen to be more frequent, with less gaps between cases as in previous years. Instead of cases occurring mainly in the rainy season, for the past five years it has been happening year round. The main reasons, experts said, are climate change and a higher breeding rate of the Aedes mosquito. Also, with the improvement in transportation, people travel from place to place more than ever. Another reason for the more frequent occurrence of dengue is the habit of Myanmar people to store water, increasing the number of places where mosquitoes can breed, said Dr. Zaw Lin.
Experts said there must be more of an effort to educate the public on how the disease is transmitted and how it can be prevented, especially in rural areas.
“About 745 people have been infected with dengue fever and 11 were reported dead in Rakhine State. Three quarters of the infected people are from rural areas, and so they lack knowledge to prevent the dengue fever. Therefore, we are carrying out prevention measures against DHF in Rakhine state”, said Dr. San Kyawt Khine, assistant director of the Rakhine state health department.
Dr. San Kyawt Khine confirmed that the cases of dengue fever have increased and now occur throughout the year.
“Dengue fever occurs annually in this region. But this year, the DHF broke out a bit early. The local people also lack the awareness of the prevention of the dengue fever. Therefore, we have already discussed with the education department to provide awareness training courses to the local people to control the disease”, she said.
Currently, the government is focusing on preventive measures against DHF.
“It’s important that the public participate in preventive measures against the disease. I want the local people to participate in our prevention activities by keeping the homes and environment clean every day and make sure there is no water left for the insects to breed, said Dr. Zaw Lin.
Dengue fever occurs mostly in the Yangon region and Rakhine State as well as Ayeyawady and Mandalay regions. In the Yangon region, the outbreak of DHF occurs mostly in Hlaing Thayar and South Dagon Myothit townships
“I want people to be well aware of the danger of the dengue fever. There are 32 wards in South Dagon Township. So, the health staff cannot provide the awareness training course to all households. Our health staff called the meetings in the ward but only around 20 people attended the meetings. Therefore, I want the ward administrators to participate in our activities,” said U Tun Hlaing.
The Aedes mosquito can be recognized by the white markings on its body. The Aedes mosquito can breed in water contained in as small an area as a bottle cap, and also in old tires and vases. The Aedes mosquito is active during the day. Therefore, people need to protect from mosquito bites during the day. The symptoms of dengue  are high fever, headaches, joint and muscle pain, vomiting and rashes. Dengue fever patients need to seek emergency treatment if the patient is unconscious with a body that is cool to the touch.
According to the WHO, over 100 million people are infected with dengue fever across the world each year, 500,000 of whom are ill enough to require hospitalisation. The outbreak of dengue fever has increased over 30 per cent across the world between 1960 and 2010.
In 2015, there were a total of 42,913 cases of dengue fever in Myanmar, resulting in 140 deaths, But 2016 saw these figures drop to just 10,770 cases and 58 deaths, evidence that possibly eradication and educational efforts were working.
But this year, there is evidence that further work is needed.

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