Sep 29 - Oct 12, 2008

Nearly two billion people in the Asia-Pacific region will be at risk from dengue fever unless governments do more to fight the debilitating disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it would ask the 37 countries and territories that make up its Western Pacific section to endorse a regional strategy for dealing with the mosquito-borne virus, which it deems among 40 emerging diseases of global importance. A dengue pandemic swept across the region between 1991 and 2004, peaking with 350,000 cases in 1998, the WHO says.

Of the 2.5 billion people at risk globally, 1.8 billion live in the Western Pacific. Ninety-eight percent of all dengue cases -- and 99-percent of all dengue deaths -- in the region between 2001 and 2004 were accounted for by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, French Polynesia, Fiji, New Caledonia and China.

Health professionals told PAGE that the recent rains may cause resurfacing the cases of dengue, but people need not panic, as the dengue fever is almost 100 per cent self-limiting disease, which does not need sophisticated treatment.

Pakistan Medical Society (PMS) Chairman Dr Masood Akhter Sheikh claimed that there is hardly any mortality associated with the fever. However, he suggested that anti-mosquito sprays should be done inside the house, as they work more than that done on the streets. About the habitat of this particular mosquito, he told the gathering that it grows in fresh water so one has to be conscious that water tanks are kept clean, no residual water remains in water pots, home lawns and money plants or any other discarded container. Checking of open vases, discarded containers or old tires in which water could accumulate is imperative, as the mosquito could thrive in these too, he said.

He stressed that simple measure could prevent the spread of dengue fever like using mosquito repellent at the times when its attack occurs, changing water in the pots daily and avoiding fresh water to get pooled in and around houses.

Dr Masood said habitually, the mosquito bites early morning and at sunset, not usually at other times. The disease is predominantly that of urban population, as the rural setting does not favor its spread, as this is a fresh water mosquito, he added. This disease silently infects 50 million peoples worldwide each year, as its symptoms are similar to common cold/flu, he added. He maintained that the disease of dengue is not confined to Pakistan, as it is endemic in more than 100 countries of the world.

Dr Masood said dengue fever is caused by the bite of a female mosquito of the genre: Aedes Aegypti. This mosquito carries the dengue virus in its active form. Dangerous forms of this are not the dengue fever but the dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), which is in less than 1 percent of the total dengue fever cases. Also Dengue Shock Syndrome (DSS) is very rare. The mortality in DHF and DSS is less than 10-20 percent on case to case basis out of all DHF and DSS patients, he explained.

"If a patient afflicted with DHF or DSS given blood or blood products in addition to fluid replacement in time, it could even further reduce the mortality. This morbidity and mortality is even less than that of malaria in this region," he claimed. Many people have exploited the dengue fever and this practice could easily be stopped by community education and dispelling fears associated with the disease, he asserted. "Mass awareness campaign about the dengue fever can stop its reoccurrence, he suggested. He said the symptoms of dengue fever were flu, coughing and fever, which could be mistaken for common cold.