More than 1,000 people in Bangladesh have died of dengue fever this year, official data shows – nearly four times more than in the whole of last year.
At least 1,017 people have died in the first nine months of 2023 and nearly 209,000 have become infected, making it the country’s worst recorded outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease since the first tallied epidemic in 2000. Among the dead are 112 children aged 15 and under, including infants.
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Hospitals in Bangladesh are struggling to make space for patients as the disease spreads rapidly in the densely-populated South Asian country.
Dengue is a disease endemic to tropical areas and causes high fevers, headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain and, in the most serious cases, bleeding that can lead to death.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that dengue and other diseases caused by mosquito-borne viruses, such as chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika, are spreading faster and further due to climate change.
There is no vaccine or drug that specifically treats dengue, which is common in South Asia during the June-to-September monsoon season as the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the disease thrives in stagnant water.
However, in recent years, hospitals in Bangladesh have also begun to admit patients suffering from the disease during winter months. Those with repeat infections are at greater risk of complications.
Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, a doctor at Dhaka’s Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital, said most patients admitted at his hospital were suffering their second or third cases of dengue.
“When people have dengue for the second, third or fourth time, the severity is increased. The number of deaths are also higher,” he told AFP news agency.
“Many are coming to us when it’s already late in their illness,” he said. “Then it’s really complicated to treat them.”
Bangladesh has recorded cases of dengue from the 1960s, but documented its first outbreak of dengue haemorrhagic fever, a severe and sometimes fatal symptom of the disease, in 2000.
The virus that causes the disease is now endemic to Bangladesh, which has seen a trend of worsening outbreaks since the turn of the century.
The surge in cases has prompted the government to step up its anti-dengue campaign, from raising awareness to efforts to kill mosquito larvae following a spell of rains, officials said.
However, a lack of proper prevention measures has allowed the dengue-carrying mosquito to spread all over Bangladesh, said Kabirul Bashar, an entomologist and zoology professor at Jahangirnagar University.
“From 2000 to 2018, dengue only happened in Dhaka city, but in 2019 it transferred to different cities. This year it transferred into the rural areas also.”