It’s been a tough summer in Thailand for dengue fever, the mosquito-born disease that can be lethal, especially after recurring bouts of it. Reports of dengue outbreaks have been coming in from all over the country, and the rainy season still has a good two months to go.
IRIN News reported in June that “health experts are warning this could be the largest-ever epidemic.” The news organization quoted Pornthep Siriwanarangsun, director of Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, as saying, “This year, we expect 150,000 to 200,000 cases.”
Dengue is carried by the Aedes mosquito, which contracts the virus when biting an infected person. Those who have the disease cannot pass it to other people; a person has to be bitten in order to get the virus. According to the U.S.’ Center for Disease Control, 100 million people are infected each year. The warm, wet climate during Thailand’s rainy season makes a fertile environment in which mosquitos can breed.
In late June, The Phuket News reported that there had been 49,000 reported cases countrywide so far this year, and 59 deaths attributed to the disease.
More than 4,000 cases had been documented in Bangkok as of mid-June, and the government vowed that it would spray chemicals to stem the mosquito infestation and try to curb the numbers of those infected. IRIN quoted a source from a Bangkok hospital as saying the staff there expects to see dengue infection numbers rise as the rainy season progresses, meaning that this year’s epidemic could reach a record high. Fortunately, improved medical care means that less people are expected to die of the disease than during the last extreme peak. In 1987, 1,000 people died and 170,000 were infected.
The National News Bureau of Thailand reported 1,800 cases of dengue in Chiang Mai earlier this summer. Chiang Mai is a popular tourist city in northern Thailand, and draws many backpackers and travelers. The Thai Financial Post reported that the number of strains of dengue found among those infected had doubled since last year.
Reports out of Isaan, the northeastern region of the country, stated that 5,406 people in that area alone had been diagnosed with dengue, and five had died from the disease. If treated early enough, dengue is not necessarily fatal, although second and third contractions are more likely to lead to death.
The National News Bureau of Thailand said in a statement that most of those affected were between 14-24 years old, and advised people to destroy mosquito larvae and monitor their surroundings for conditions favorable to mosquito breeding.
The government has cautioned people to clear areas of standing water, particularly in schools, which provide breeding grounds for mosquitos. They have also encouraged local governments to establish incentives for people to stay on top of spots in their homes that could provide opportunities for mosquitos to breed, removing standing water in old pots and receptacles that collect water.
The rising dengue rates stand in contrast to malaria in Thailand, which saw a more than 75 percent decrease between 2000-2011, according to a 2012 report from the World Health Organization.
While improved health services may help mitigate the disease in those who have contracted it, the best plan of action is to avoid getting bitten as much as possible. Using mosquito sprays and nets, and ensuring you have proper screens in rooms can go a long way toward lowering your bite risks. Keeping an eye out for any areas that unnecessarily have standing water around your home can also help.
If you suspect you might have dengue, it’s important to see a doctor right away to begin treatment and see how far along the disease is. Symptoms include fever, bleeding gums or nose, nausea, headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and/or joint pain and a rash. Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should consider seeing a doctor, even if only to rule out dengue. There is no vaccine and treatments vary, usually including paracetamol or another fever or pain reducer.
The Thai Ministry of Health will hold the Third International Conference on Dengue and Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever 2013 in Bangkok this October. Health professionals will discuss topics such as disease control, the virology of dengue, diagnosis, management and other topics vital for preventing the spread of and deaths from the disease.