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UN agency urges South-East Asia to take prompt action against dengue fever

UN agency urges South-East Asia to take prompt action against dengue fever

The United Nations health agency today called on South-East Asian countries to take prompt action to prevent and contain mounting outbreaks of dengue fever, a potentially fatal flu-like viral illness spread by mosquitoes breeding in artificial containers and improperly managed garbage.

“Vector control, such as the control of mosquito breeding in domestic and peri-domestic areas, is imperative for prevention of dengue,” said Jai P. Narain, Director of Communicable Diseases at the UN World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for South-East Asia. “This requires the full participation and mobilization of the community at the individual and household level.”

The number of reported cases has increased in Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. Indonesia has had twice the number, compared to 45,777 during the same period in 2005. Myanmar and Thailand are seeing increases of 29 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

Many other Asian and Pacific countries are already facing an unprecedented increase.

Experience from previous years shows that in countries such as India, including the capital, New Delhi, dengue outbreaks begin to increase from August onwards soon after the monsoons.

“Dengue is a man-made problem related to human behaviour,” which is affected by “globalization, rapid unplanned and unregulated urban development, poor water storage and unsatisfactory sanitary conditions,” according to WHO Regional Director Samlee Plianbangchang. “These factors provide an increase in the breeding habitats of the mosquito.”

The virus spreads through the bite of the infectious female Aedes mosquito, primarily Aedes aegypti. Since dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever are ecological diseases, prevention is the key to effective control. Surveillance of vectors and the disease are both very critical because outbreaks are generally preceded by increased vector populations.

Individuals, families, community support groups, self-help groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local authorities and health departments need to work together to address the current situation because dengue is everyone’s concern, WHO said.

Individuals can take simple steps such as emptying all water containers at least once a week and ridding their surroundings of containers that collect rain water, which will help to prevent the laying of eggs by the mosquitoes that are the dengue vector.

Aedes mosquitoes bite only in the daytime, unlike malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Often persons infected with dengue suffer from mild flu-like symptoms, and may not realize they have the disease. Aside from joint pain, dengue victims experience rashes, nausea and headaches.

But some also suffer a potentially fatal form called dengue haemorrhagic fever, which causes internal bleeding and circulatory failure. Aspirin should be avoided in cases of dengue fever as it is known to increase the tendency to bleed. No vaccine has yet been found for any of the four strains of the virus, and none of the four confer immunity from the others.