Health experts says epidemics of dengue are becoming larger and more frequent

 

Countries across South-East Asia are battling a rapid increase in cases of dengue fever.

 

Statistics show a dramatic surge in infections from the mosquito-born disease in countries from Vietnam to even the region's wealthiest state, Singapore, where figures show cases of dengue rising to 401 new infections last week alone.

 

Larvae of the Aedes mosquito can bread
anywhere there is stagnant water
The Singapore government classifies anything over 378 as an epidemic.

 

In neighbouring Malaysia some 22,596 cases of dengue fever have been reported this year - already 55 per cent more than the total number of cases last year.

 

Of those, 47 people have died - an increase of 17 per cent from 2006.

 

Dengue fever is spread by the aedes mosquito, and causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, aching joints and fatigue.

 

In severe cases it can also lead to extensive internal bleeding, but as yet there is no cure and no vaccine.

 

'Unprecedented'

 

Dengue fever


Transmitted by the bite of the day-feeing Aedes mosquito

Dengue symptoms often resemble flu-like aches in initial stages; most severe form can cause haemorrhaging

Dengue caused by one of four related viruses; infection provides immunity to only to that virus serotype

Disease orginates in tropical and subtropical areas, but cases reported elsewhere from mosquitos carried in imported plants

Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Worldwide the disease affects about 50 million people every year, with South-East Asia one of the main areas where the disease is on the rise.

 

Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organisation, says the rise in dengue cases is partly due to changing rainfall patterns and rapid urbanisation.

 

As a result, she told Al Jazeera, "we’re seeing dengue fever coming in big numbers and we are seeing malaria occurring in places it did not occur before."

 

The soaring number of cases, she said, was "consuming hospital services and clinic services in an unprecedented way."

 

Visiting one Kuala Lumpur hospital, we spoke to twelve-year-old Muhamed Syahrul, recovering from a severe case of dengue.

 

Muhamed told us several of his school friends have also had dengue.

 

At its peak, his mother said, the disease had caused his brain to swell so much he was incoherent for two days.

 

Fogging

 

Muhamed Syahrul survived a
severe case of dengue
"It's not right," she said, adding the government needed to do more to fight the disease.

 

"Before someone is bitten they should take action. It's only when someone comes down with dengue that they fog the area."

 

Fogging involves the spraying of an insecticide that kills adult mosquitoes.

 

But fogging is not especially effective unless the actual breeding sites are also destroyed.

 

Joining one of the dengue patrol teams from Malaysia's ministry of health we visited one block of flats in suburban Kuala Lumpur that has become one of many dengue hotspots.

 

More than 27 people in this block alone have already come down with dengue this year.

Dengue fine

Fogging to kill mosquitos barely manages
to keep the disease at bay

It wasn't long before we found signs of dengue breeding grounds.

 

In the first flat the team found mosquito larvae in a bathroom. Back in the lab, the larvae are proved to be Aedes, so the owner now faces a $150 fine.

 

But even that steep sum has not proved much of a deterrent said medical officer Dr Ida Yanti.

 

"Occasionally when we go one month, one week later, sometimes we see same problem happening in the same house," she told us.

 

Faced with a growing number of dengue cases the Malaysian government is trying a different tack, trying to make control of the disease everybody’s problem.

 

It has recruited volunteer groups to keep their own communities free of breeding sites.

Escalation

Dr Lum says cases of dengue are only
likely to escalate yet further

But there is still a long way to go.

 

While most efforts focus on removing potential breeding grounds from individual households, other potential sites in public areas such as construction sites, blocked drains and piles of rubbish are largely ignored.

 

Dr Lucy Lum, a paediatrician at the University of Malaya, has been watching the progress of dengue for 17 years and says she thinks the dengue problem will continue to rise.

 

"With more urbanization, with population coming into the urban areas, I think the disease is going to escalate," she said.

 

"We are very, very concerned that it is going to spread to large areas with global warming and with people travelling. It can only spread."

Source: Al Jazeera