A wave of dengue fever is sweeping through India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Tens of thousands of people across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been hit by dengue fever this year, in one of the worst outbreaks in recent times that has further burdened the countries’ already fragile public health systems.
In India, at least 116,991 dengue cases have been reported this year, according to local media quoting health officials. A total of 15 states and federally controlled territories have reported cases this year, accounting for 86 per cent of India’s total dengue cases as of 31 October.
In Pakistan, the two provinces that share a border with India – Punjab and Sindh – are also witnessing outbreaks. On November 8, this year, Punjab recorded 19,021 dengue cases and 75 deaths, while Sindh recorded 4,273 cases, according to Pakistani officials. The total number of cases across the country is not known, but according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the capital of Islamabad, has a upwards trend of ever-increasing dengue cases.
And in Bangladesh, nearly 25,000 patients nationwide have been admitted to hospitals and 95 people have died since January, according to the Directorate-General of Health Services (DGHS). At least 151 new patients have been admitted to hospital with dengue fever in the past 24 hours.
Dengue is a mosquito-borne virus infection found mainly in tropical climates where high temperature, humidity and unplanned rapid urbanization create ideal conditions for infected mosquitoes to spread the dengue virus or DENV.
These mosquitoes usually live in places at an altitude below 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) and require temperatures above 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) to breed.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost half of the world’s population, about four billion people, live in areas at risk of dengue. Every year, 100-400 million people are infected with dengue and 40,000 people die from severe dengue.
Dengue virus transmission
Dengue cannot be distributed directly from one person to another. The virus is rather spread by the bite of an infected female Aedes aegypti mosquito.
When an uninfected mosquito bites a person who has the virus in their bloodstream, the mosquito becomes infected. An infected mosquito can then transmit that virus to a healthy person by biting them and thus creating a cycle.
Infected mosquitoes can continue to transmit the virus to healthy people for their entire lifespan, which usually lasts three to four weeks.
According to the WHO, the worldwide spread of dengue has increased dramatically in recent decades and is considered one of the 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
It usually takes four to five days after being infected for a person to develop symptoms that can last for a week or longer.
About one in four people infected with the dengue virus will get sick. For those, symptoms can range from headaches, nausea and fever to worse such as severe abdominal pain, rapid breathing and internal bleeding. About one in 20 people who fall ill will develop severe dengue, which can be life-threatening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Prevention and treatment
Preventing mosquito bites is one of the best defenses against dengue. This includes sleeping with mosquito nets; removal of stagnant water at home; and the use of mosquito repellent.
There is no specific medication to treat dengue. Those who do become infected are encouraged to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take painkillers such as paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen) to control fever. Aspirin or ibuprofen should not be taken as it may increase the risk of bleeding complications.