MYANMAR : Dengue fever cases have spiked throughout the country this year, surpassing previous record highs as another epidemic outbreak grips the region.
The Ministry of Health recorded 35,993 cases from January to September 27, almost three times as high as last year, and 78 percent higher than the previous outbreak – deemed record-breaking – in 2013. The ministry said the year-to-date infections are the highest since the government began counting in 1965.
Though the number of people struck by the mosquito-borne disease has escalated, it has not been as fatal as in past years – 120 people have died this year, according to the ministry’s account, compared to the country’s most fatal outbreak in 1994 when an epidemic claimed 444 lives.
The virus has been particularly prevalent in flood-struck regions, where standing water and poor sanitation has exacerbated monsoon conditions that provide ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which spread the virus’s four serotypes.
In Mon State, 5022 cases have been recorded, while there have been 5974 cases in Sagaing Region and 6478 in Ayeyarwady Region, according to Daw Khin Nan Lone, dengue project manager at the Ministry of Health.
The actual caseload this year is likely much higher, however, as the ministry’s figures do not take into account patients treated in the private sector, or the many suspected cases that never get confirmed through blood tests.
Dengue infections, for which there is no cure, typically cause flu-like symptoms such as achiness, headaches and a high fever.
Between three and seven days after the onset of initial symptoms dengue can progress to the more severe and potentially deadly form known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can lead to plasma leakages and organ failure, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
Dengue has been recorded in Yangon since 1965. After a major outbreak in 1970, the fever spread to Mandalay and Bago regions, as well as Mon State.
Before the 1970s, few countries had reported any outbreaks of dengue, but incidences of the disease have increased dramatically in just a handful of decades. It is now a leading cause of hospitalisations and death of children and the elderly in Southeast Asia. The increased incidence of cases is typically attributed to global warming and more densely populated urban areas.
The World Health Organization estimates that the vastly under-reported infection affects nearly 400 million people annually.
“About half of the world’s population is now at risk of dengue,” said Dr Jorge Mario Luna, Myanmar country director for the WHO. “For many reasons, it is very difficult to eliminate. So every year we should expect – during and after the rainy season – an increase in the number of cases, with ‘peaks’ every four to five years.”
This year, the region appears to be suffering such a surge of cases, with several of the ASEAN countries reporting alarming upticks, following a similar upward trend in 2013.
Cases in Thailand have nearly tripled compared to last year, while Cambodia’s National Malaria Centre reported that cases have shot up over 350pc.
Vietnam is also experiencing a larger than usual annual outbreak, up 85pc on last year, according to the WHO. Malaysia and Taiwan have reported experiencing spikes that may top their countries’ records.
“This cyclical peak is becoming more frequent due to environmental change (ecological change), unplanned urbanisation, population movement and increased awareness to dengue (so more people are coming to hospital for treatment),” Dr Luna said in an email.
Dengue season is expected to taper off with fewer cases as the monsoon winds down, the temperature cools and the rain recedes, he added.