(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Dengue deaths mount

The 'Aedes aegypti' mosquito which is the carrier of dengue fever
WHO

An outbreak of dengue fever, which has killed over 20 people and infected thousands of others in the last two months, has spread in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab, especially in the capital, Lahore, medical workers say.



According to Muhammad Razzaq, director of Communicable Disease Control in the Punjab government, 6,666 cases had been reported in the two months up to 19 September. “Of these, 5,900 cases are in Lahore while the rest are from districts such as Faisalabad and Multan,” he told IRIN.



Since the outbreak started, 23 people have died of the disease. Some media reports put the death toll significantly higher. There have also been reports of dengue in Sindh Province, with the provincial Dengue Surveillance Cell reporting 138 cases this year, most of them in Karachi.



“The number of patients in government hospitals is 250,” Razzaq added. “All others have either been discharged or were never admitted but given treatment in the outpatient department of hospitals.”



Lahore schools closed



All schools and colleges in Lahore have been closed for 10 days, while they are fumigated and sprayed as part of dengue prevention measures ordered by the provincial chief minister.



Traders selling fake dengue “cures” at inflated rates have had cases registered against them and levels of public panic are high, according to media reports, despite reassurances from medical experts that dengue is only rarely fatal.



“People just don’t need to panic,” said Shahid Malik, assistant professor of community medicine at the Institute of Public Health in Lahore. “Panic weakens the immunity system. Every death cannot just be put into the dengue category. This should be carefully reported.”



Affected families are struggling to cope. Bushra Younis, 35, whose husband has been hospitalized, said he needed several pints of blood as his platelet count is dropping.



“My brothers live in Sheikhupura, about 80km from Lahore, and they are coming down as quickly as they can,” Bushra said outside the hospital where long lines of patients wait for treatment.



The dengue epidemic has hit hard this year in Punjab, especially Lahore. There have been periodic outbreaks of dengue since 2006. But this time round panic triggered by the disease has disrupted lives.



Sri Lankan team



A team of Sri Lankan experts called in by the Punjab government has been collecting water samples across Lahore and emphasized the priority right now was to control dengue deaths.



“We do not let the children play outdoors at all, and I have barricaded the doors so they remain indoors,” Laiq Anwar, a father of three, told IRIN.



In previous years there has been a spread of dengue during travel for the Eid holidays, which mark the end of Ramadan.



According to the World Health Organization, dengue fever is spread by the bite of the striped Aedes Aegypti mosquito. Outbreaks of the disease occur typically in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. Symptoms range from a mild fever to an incapacitating high fever with severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, and a rash.



Dengue can be caused by four different but related strains of dengue virus. If a person has had one virus, there can be a repeat occurrence of dengue if a different strain is involved subsequently. Rarely, people suffering from dengue bleed from the nose, gums or skin, an indication of the potentially fatal dengue haemorrhagic fever. There are no specific medicines to cure dengue.



kh/eo/cb


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