Record death toll from dengue outbreak feared

With Dengue Fever spreading rapidly through Bangladesh this rainy season, fears have been raised that the mosquito-borne disease could result in a record number of deaths and infections for the second consecutive year.

At least 201 people, more than half of them in the capital Dhaka, have died and more than 37,000 have become infected with the virus so far this year, according to official figures.

In 2022, the virus claimed 281 lives, a record high since the authorities started keeping a tally in 2000, and 62,423 people were infected, the figures showed.

Hospitals, especially in Dhaka, are struggling to find space for the high caseload of patients suffering high fever, joint pain and vomiting, health officials said.

There is no vaccine or drug that specifically treats dengue, which is common in South Asia during the June-to-September monsoon season as the Aedes aegypti mosquito which spreads the disease thrives in stagnant water.

The government has launched initiatives to limit the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, from awareness campaigns to efforts to kill mosquito larvae following the current spell of rains, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently warned that cases of dengue fever could reach close to record highs this year, attributable to a worrying cocktail of rising temperatures and rapid urbanisation.

Dengue rates are rising globally, with reported cases since 2000 up eight-fold to 4.2 million in 2022, WHO said.

The disease was recently found in Khartoum for the first time on record, according to a health ministry report in March, while Europe has reported a surge in cases and Peru has actually declared a state of emergency in several regions.

In January, the WHO warned that dengue is the world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease and represents a “pandemic threat”.

About half of the world’s population is now at risk, according to Dr Raman Velayudhan, a specialist at the WHO’s control of neglected tropical diseases department,

Reported cases to WHO hit an all-time high in 2019 with 5.2 million cases in 129 countries, said Dr Velayudhan. This year the world is on track for “4 million plus” cases, depending mostly on the Asian monsoon season.

Already, close to 3 million cases have been reported in the Americas, he said, adding there was concern about the southern spread to Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

WHO says reported cases of the disease, which causes fever and muscle pain, represent just a fraction of the total number of global infections since most cases are asymptomatic. It is fatal in less than 1% of people.

A warmer climate is thought to help the mosquitoes multiply faster and enable the virus to multiply within their bodies. Dr Velayudhan also cited the increased movement of goods and people and urbanisation and associated problems with sanitation as other factors behind the increase.