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Dhaka Tribune

Persistent peril: Year-round dengue threat sparks alarm

  • Dengue outbreaks expand beyond monsoon
  • Remote areas face dengue threat
  • Healthcare strain feared in places beyond cities
Update : 15 Apr 2024, 04:02 PM

Dengue outbreaks usually align with the onset of monsoon, with May to September marking the peak dengue season. However, recent years have witnessed a troubling trend as cases of dengue fever are reported year-round. 

This year 22 fatalities attributed to dengue as of April 9 has raised concerns about the possible severity of the upcoming season.

The transmission of dengue viruses occurs through the bites of infected female Aedes mosquitoes. Once infected, humans become carriers and amplifiers of the virus, serving as a source for uninfected mosquitoes. 

The virus circulates in the blood of an infected person for two to seven days, at approximately the same time that the person develops a fever. Patients who are already infected with the dengue virus can transmit the infection via Aedes mosquitoes after the first symptoms appear, which normally occur within four to five days to a maximum of 12 days, according to the World Health Organization.

While dengue outbreaks historically correlate with the rainy season, conducive to Aedes mosquito breeding, in recent years mosquito breeding has taken place year-round given favourable environmental conditions.

According to health directorate data, from January to April 9 this year, 1,789 people were hospitalized with dengue while 22 died from the fever. January alone accounted for 1,055 cases, followed by 339 in February and 311 in March, with 84 cases reported thus far in April.

Last year, there were 321,179 dengue patients–the highest yet. Notably, the number of cases was higher from May to December. 

Meanwhile, over 1,000 cases in January this year is an unprecedented occurrence.

Comparing trends, January 2022 and the preceding year saw 126 and 32 dengue cases, respectively.

The number of deaths has also increased in the early months. Fourteen people died in January this year, three in February and five in March. 

Last year there were six deaths in January, three in February and zero deaths from dengue in March. 

There were no dengue deaths on record from January to May 2022 or the year before.

Bad to worse

Experts in public health, entomology and medicine have expressed apprehension regarding the worsening dengue scenario. 

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Professor Emeritus Dr ABM Abdullah underscored the possible strain on healthcare infrastructure beyond divisional and district towns if case numbers escalated. 

An entomologist at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research stressed the need for awareness initiatives to combat dengue throughout the year. 

“Last year we started getting [dengue] patients in rural areas. The number may increase this year, and if it does, it will put a lot of pressure on our medical capacity.”

“Until 2013, we only saw dengue patients in March-April. From 2013 to 2016, there were dengue patients in almost every month save for a couple of them. From 2016 to now, there has been a significant number of patients every single month,” another entomologist, GM Saifur Rahman, said.

Public health expert Dr Mushtuq Husain emphasized effective patient management to mitigate fatalities, before highlighting the time-consuming nature of mosquito control efforts.

“Last year dengue spread to remote areas of the country, where most of the patients were first-timers. If the [dengue] situation outside Dhaka is not kept under control this year, they may be attacked for a second time. Besides, there will also be new patients,” he added.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Samanta Lal Sen said stopping Aedes mosquito infestation must be the first priority. “Treatment comes later. We have already had a meeting about everything needed for dengue treatment. We will convene again so that there is no deficiency in that regard.”

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