RANGOON — Burma’s health authorities warn that the country could be in the grips of a dengue fever epidemic, as the number of reported cases this year has already surpassed the total amount of patients in the whole of 2012.
The Ministry of Health said on Friday that data collected from clinics and hospitals showed that 6,448 people have been infected with the mosquito-borne virus so far and 13 patients have died.
Last year, the ministry recorded 6,033 dengue cases and 27 deaths.
“This year there is an increase in cases compared to 2011 an 2012,” said Dr. Ni Ni Aye, deputy director of the Health Ministry’s Dengue Program. “We worry that this year will be bad like in 2010. In that year, we had 16,318 cases and 117 deaths…This year we expect an epidemic.”
Ni Ni Aye said that although the number of cases was increasing this year, the virus was being treated better and leading to fewer deaths. “I think the mortality rates are decreasing,” she said.
Burma’s most deadly dengue outbreak was recorded by the ministry in 1994 when 444 people died of the virus, while a 2001 epidemic killed 204 patients.
Ni Ni Aye said dengue cases have been on the rise in Burma since 2005, but dropped in 2011 and 2012 because health authorities launched a public awareness campaign and introduced measures to curb mosquito populations in the preceding years.
The disease was now resurging, she said, because fewer such steps were taken last year, leading to a rapid growth of the virus-carrying mosquito this rainy season.
The mosquitoes that spread dengue breed in clear water, leading to more cases of infection during the monsoon.
Ni Ni Aye said it was also normal for virus cases to peak every three to four years. “This year’s outbreak is also due to the cyclical trend, so we’re expecting an epidemic,” she added.
Dr. Aung Myint Lwin, Medical Superintendent of Rangoon’s Yankin Children’s Hospital, said that his staff was faced with a rapidly growing number of dengue cases among children, who are most at risk of becoming severely ill because of the virus.
“Last year, the total number of dengue cases admitted was 486 children, but this year, as of June 19, the total number of admissions is already 810 children,” he said, adding that six children had died from dengue so far.
Aung Myint Lwin added that the spike in cases was occurring unusually early in the year. “We are worried because normally, the dengue cases only start in the rainy season, from May to September, but this year it starts early and the number of cases is quite high,” he said.
Aung Myint Lwin said that three weeks ago health authorities met with Rangoon officials and health NGOs to plan measures that would curb the outbreak.
He said authorities had begun spraying insecticide in potential breeding grounds near schools and public areas. People are being advised to avoid mosquito bites by wearing protective clothes, while they should throw away any vessels, such discarded containers, that would collect rainwater.
Dr. Vinod Bura, an epidemiologist at the World Health Organization’s Burma office, said his staff had also observed a spike in dengue cases.
“There is a significant increase compared to last year… We’re seeing slightly more cases in Yangon and in Mon State,” he said, adding that the rest of Southeast Asia was also experiencing a jump in dengue cases this year.
He said people should to take preventive measures and seek immediate treatment in case of infection. “It can be a simple fever, but it can also lead to hemorrhage and then it becomes a dangerous thing,” Bura said. “The key thing is that people shouldn’t stay home but go see a doctor.”
“Symptoms, such as joint paints and rash on your body, could appear a few days after the bit. The fever will last for four to five days,” he said. “People should take a rest and drink a lot of fluids.”