Several Asian countries are experiencing unusually high numbers of dengue cases for this time of year, the World Health Organisation reports.
With the rainy season approaching, WHO is calling for action to minimise illness and deaths from dengue.
Dengue is one of the fastest-spreading mosquito-borne diseases. Worldwide, the incidence of dengue has increased 30-fold over the past 50 years. Dengue is a major public health concern as it can develop into a potentially fatal form called severe dengue.
Of an estimated 2.5 billion people at risk for dengue globally, about 70 per cent live in Asia Pacific countries. Climate conditions, unclean environments, unplanned urban settlements and rapid urbanization can lead to increased mosquito breeding, especially in urban and semi-urban areas.
Several countries in the WHO Western Pacific Region such as Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam have observed early increases in the number of dengue cases reported so far this year.
- In Cambodia, there has been an upward trend in suspected dengue cases recorded since the beginning of 2019. More than 1300 suspected cases were reported in week 21 alone-a level which is higher than expected for this time of the year.
- In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, suspected dengue case numbers are higher than the same period during the previous five years. So far in 2019, as of week 21, a total of 4,216 suspected cases including 14 deaths have been reported.
- In Malaysia, a total of 52,941 cases including 81 deaths were reported during the first 22 weeks of 2019. The number of cases is around twice that of the same period in 2018.
- In the Philippines, a total of 77,040 suspected cases of dengue, including 328 deaths, were reported in the first 20 weeks of 2019. This is almost double the 41,104 cases reported during the same time period last year. Case numbers remain high, but as they are starting to decline, the rainy season is approaching.
- In Singapore, the number of dengue cases has been increasing over the past eight weeks. As of week 21 of 2019, there were a total of 3,886 cases reported, compared to 1,049 cases reported during the same period last year.
- In Vietnam, there have been a total of 59,959 suspected cases reported including four deaths as of week 19; more than three times the number for the same period in 2018.
To minimise deaths, affected people and caregivers of children must seek early medical attention from health-care workers with the training and resources necessary to provide appropriate care.
“The increased number of cases is of concern, but even more worrying is the increase in the rate of people dying from dengue, especially children,” said Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
“This is a signal that we need to work with countries to strengthen care as well as prevention.
“Health workers in dengue-endemic areas must be able to recognize the symptoms of dengue and the warning signs of severe dengue, do diagnostic tests and provide life-saving care. Also, families need to know what symptoms to look for and where to get early medical attention. This is especially urgent with the rainy season coming to many parts of Asia.”
There is no specific treatment for dengue but early detection, improved clinical management and access to proper medical care for severe dengue can reduce fatality rates. WHO recommends that dengue-endemic countries continue educating the population and health workers on recognizing dengue symptoms and the warning signs of severe dengue. Appropriate home care with adequate hydration and rest during the early stages can minimise the risk of the disease becoming severe.
WHO supports countries to train health professionals on the diagnosis and proper management of dengue and to prepare health centres and hospitals for effective response in case of outbreaks and influxes of patients.
WHO also encourages governments and communities to reduce the spread of dengue by informing the public of how to clean up mosquito breeding sites.
In 2016, governments of the Western Pacific Region adopted an action plan for dengue prevention and control that provides strategic guidance to transition from containment of outbreaks to reducing the impact of dengue on communities and health systems. Dengue outbreaks cannot be avoided, but countries can take action to significantly reduce the scale, frequency and impact of outbreaks. WHO continues to support countries and areas in their efforts to reduce the burden of this disease on populations.