As an unusually late and prolonged monsoon season continues to drench Bangladesh, a sudden rise in dengue patients is prompting fears of an outbreak of the viral disease in the country's capital, Dhaka, according to health officials.
Dengue, transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, is associated with monsoon rains, usually from July to September. However, officials said they had seen a greater number of cases at hospitals and clinics this year compared to previous years.
"The number of dengue patients has suddenly gone up," Shah Monir Hossain, director-general of the government's Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told IRIN.
"We don't have any concrete figures of the exact number of patients, but reports from the public and private hospitals and clinics suggest that [the] number of dengue patients has been on the rise since Eid," he said, referring to the Muslim festival celebrated in Bangladesh this year from 21 September.
Meanwhile, the city's mayor, Sadeq Hossain Khoka, said that as of 1 October, 304 dengue patients had been admitted to hospitals and clinics in Dhaka, according to local media reports.
Health officials have urged the public not to panic, citing the capacity of the health service to deal with the disease.
However, politicians have criticized the municipal Dhaka City Corporation for clogged sewers and poor mosquito control, prompting the mayor to announce a massive city cleanliness and awareness raising campaign on 3 October.
Health workers have reported five or six new cases daily at each of Dhaka's hospitals and clinics, but NGO workers warned that the number of people with dengue would be much higher in the city's congested slums, where there is poor sanitation, and few can afford medical treatment.
Dengue is basically a disease of the poor. In the slums of the city, where one third of its population of over 10 million live, many do not even know that they have the disease
"Disease of the poor"
"Clinics are for the rich. Dengue is basically a disease of the poor. In the slums of the city, where one third of its population of over 10 million live, many do not even know that they have the disease. If we take that into account, the dengue figure would be much higher," said a senior manager of a leading NGO.
"The situation might worsen in [the] next few days, as the hot humid conditions will help breed more mosquitoes by the second week of October," said the manager, who asked not to be named.
In Bangladesh, the weather begins to cool down from the third week of October.
Public health issue
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dengue is the most common mosquito-borne viral disease in humans, and has become a major international public health concern in recent years.
WHO categorizes Bangladesh as a "category B" country, which means that cyclical epidemics are becoming more frequent, and that the disease is extending its geographical range in the country.
Photo: Courtesy of Perambara
|Items such as these provide fertile breeding grounds for dengue|
"Category A" countries, which include Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste, are those where dengue is a major public health problem, and is the leading cause of death and hospitalization among children.
A dengue outbreak in Bangladesh in 2000 infected over 5,000 people and killed 93, while over 6,000 were infected and 58 killed in 2002, according to WHO figures.
Health specialists cite a lack of mosquito eradication measures, the growth of urban agriculture, and an increase in Dhaka's population, especially in the slum areas, as some of the main reasons for the city's susceptibility.
Symptoms of dengue include fever, joint pain, nausea and headaches. Dengue haemorrhagic fever, a potentially fatal form which causes internal bleeding and circulatory failure, is most common in children under 15, but it also occurs in adults.
No vaccine is available yet and there is no specific treatment, so dengue control is primarily dependent on control of the Aedes mosquito.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions