Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne viral disease which has emerged as a threat recently in Bangladesh and it is no more an isolated matter.
It has become a cause for panic, especially in the overpopulated cities like Dhaka.
Though the scientists are still unable to find a vaccine, research is still ongoing in solving what now seems to be a global problem.
Know its history
The word “chikungunya” is believed to derive from the Kimakonde language, which is spoken by the indigenous people of southern Tanzania. It means “that which bends up.”
It refers to the contorted posture of the people affected with severe joint pain. It was first reported in 1952, during an outbreak in southern Tanzania. Now, it has been identified in 74 countries around the world.
Chikungunya is not a new phenomenon here in Bangladesh; it was first seen in Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj in 2008 and Doharupazila of Dhaka in 2011.
Recently, strong voices of criticism regarding chikungunya have been heard in Bangladesh. But, are we questioning the current course of public health policy and the insufficient guidelines from government institutions?
Epidemic or outbreak?
Health experts address this situation as an epidemic. On the contrary, the Bangladesh government considers this situation as an outbreak. Therefore, we need to have a close study between these two terms -- outbreak and epidemic.
According to WHO, an outbreak is the sudden occurrence of a disease in a restricted community: It may be in a geographical area, or may extend over several countries. On the other hand, epidemic means “an occurrence of a group of illnesses of similar nature and derived from a common source, in excess of what would be normally expected in a community or region.”
But, there is a contradiction between the health experts and the Bangladesh government.
According to the government body, we can’t consider this situation as an epidemic until or unless international communities like WHO declare the present outbreak of chikungunya as an epidemic.
Moreover, the IEDCR or Disease Control Unit of the DGHS is not liable or authorised to declare this situation as an epidemic.
But, are we questioning the current course of public health policy and the insufficient guidelines from government institutions?
More than meets the eye
Chikungunya is characterised by an abrupt onset of fever. Infected people will develop some symptoms such as severe joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue, and rash -- that is, small red spots all over the body. The joint pain is often very debilitating, and sometimes prolonged. It usually lasts for a few days or may extend to weeks.
In most cases, patients recover fully. But, in some special cases, joint pain may persist for several months, or even years.
Occasional cases of eye, neurological, heart, and gastrointestinal complications have been reported. Serious complications are not common, but this may be the cause of death in case of older people and pregnant women. The infection may go unrecognised, or be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue occurs.
Though chikungunya breeds in clean water, it does increase during heavy rain. Health experts recommend that people take certain precautions when heading into areas where mosquitoes are active. People can use bug spray, avoid standing water, and wear long sleeves and pants.
Lack of awareness in families and failure to destroy breeding sources of aedes mosquitoes are the reasons for the current surge in chikungunya.
Also, people should be more cautious to keep their houses clean; they should destroy all potential mosquito breeding sources, and they should also supplement the efforts of the government.
According to a recent study by IEDCR: “As many as 566 people in the capital have been diagnosed with the mosquito-borne chikungunya disease. On average, about 30 to 35 people contact IEDCR per day to know about the disease.”
A massive awareness campaign is needed to stop the outbreak of chikungunya. The only way to prevent chikungunya is to prevent mosquito bites.
Basic precautions should be taken by the people travelling to areas at risk.
Chikungunya affected people should drink a lot of water, take plenty rest, take medicine such as acetaminophen or paracetamol (should not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and they need to avoid using too much perfume or aftershave.
If not tested at the right time, it does not even show up in lab results.
Prevention and control of this disease largely depends on reducing the number of natural and artificial water-filled container habitats that support the breeding of the mosquitoes. Here, mobilisation of affected communities is a significant factor, and the need to treat water in containers to kill the immature larvae.
Finally, increased awareness everywhere can go a long way in solving the problem.
Rana Dutta is the Assistant Deputy Secretary, BKMEA.