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Dengue Sweeping Across Southeast Asia

Climate change is armed with little surprises up its sleeves; one of which is a surge in dengue cases in Southeast Asia.

According to experts, the spread of dengue, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and is endemic in much of the region, has also accelerated in recent years due to increasing urbanization and travel or migration within the region

So why not consider a vaccine? Not possible, say health officials as four different viruses cause dengue. Hence the only real weapon against the dengue is prevention, and this encompasses destruction of all possible breeding sites of mosquitoes.

Says Lo Wing-lok, an expert in infectious diseases: The threat of dengue is increasing because of global warming, mosquitoes are becoming more active year by year and their geographical reach is expanding both north and south of the Equator. "Even Singapore, which is so affluent and modern, can't exercise adequate control, Lo added.

Dengue sufferers often describe the onset of high fever, nausea and intense joint pain. There is no real treatment, apart from rest and rehydration, and in severe cases it can be fatal.

"There is no medicine to cure dengue fever, so the only treatment is to have a lot of electrolytes," says Noranita Badrun, a Kuala Lumpur resident whose daughter, Nurin Syakilah, spent a week in hospital in April battling the disease. If not diagnosed early, dengue can kill, but Nurin, who received 18 bottles of intravenous fluids during her hospital stay, recovered soon and is now back at school, where two other students also had the disease, says her mother.

Experts say prevailing weather patterns of hot days punctuated by a day of rain have worsened the problem. It's not so much the rise in temperature that affects dengue, rather the rising rainfall has lengthened the lifespan of the epidemic each season," says Wiku Adisasmito, a dengue expert at the University of Indone sia.

According to official figures, the number of dengue cases in Singapore last month was nearly three times that in the same period a year ago. The surge in cases has prompted the government to step up its anti-dengue campaign, urging Singaporeans to clear roofs and gutters, and throw out stale water in containers.

In Malaysia, 48 people died from dengue during the first five months of the year, health officials said, up roughly 71 percent from 2006. By May 26, 20,658 people had caught the disease, a surge of 55 percent over the corresponding 2006 figure.

"We are concerned over the increase and we need everyone to cooperate with the authorities to fight the menace," Health Ministry official Hasan Abdul Rahman was quoted.


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