Dengue fever cases rise towards quarter century peak

By Le Phuong   September 23, 2022 | 03:58 pm PT
Dengue fever cases rise towards quarter century peak
A nurse takes care of a severe dengue fever patient at the HCMC Hospital for Tropical Disease in 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
The number of dengue fever cases recorded in Vietnam so far this year is only slightly lower than the whole of 1998, its worst year of dengue fever infections.

The situation is rendered more worrisome because the virus has been found in more localities and the country’s healthcare sector has already been stretched thin by the prolonged Covid-19 fight.

Addressing a Friday conference held in HCMC on preventing and fighting dengue fever, Doctor Luong Chan Quang with the Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute said the figure was only lower than what was recorded in Vietnam in 1998, when 300,000 cases and 400 deaths were recorded.

Vietnam has recorded more than 211,000 dengue fever cases so far this year and 87 patients have died, 4.3 times the number of patients and 68 more fatalities compared to the same period last year.

He said for this year, it is possible that climate change and rapid urbanization has affected the habitat of the Aedes mosquito, the main carrier of the dengue virus, causing the virus to appear in more localities than before.

The Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, for example, has never recorded any dengue fever case, but this year has been different, he said.

Among other reasons for the high number of dengue fever fatalities this year is a shortage of medical workers.

In HCMC alone, after the latest Covid-19 outbreak that lasted from June to October last year, 400 healthcare workers at ward/commune medical centers have quit. These workers are in the frontline of the fight against infectious diseases.

In most cases, they reported overload and low incomes as reasons for quitting.

Meanwhile, many localities do not have enough money to monitor and prevent the spread of the disease. Some don’t even have chemicals to spray and kill mosquitoes in breeding areas, said Quang.

Do Thi Hong Hien, a World Health Organization representative in Vietnam, said that after almost three years of fighting Covid-19, "Vietnam is exhausted both in terms of budget and human resources.

"There is a now serious imbalance between those resources and the actual demand of patients," she said.

Nguyen Thanh Hung, director of the Children Hospital No.1 in HCMC, said the condition of 10-30% of dengue fever patients are likely to turn severe if it is not detected early. Once the cases turn severe, the patients develop critical symptoms quickly, especially babies less than a year old, patients with obesity, pregnant women and those having other chronic conditions.

Pham Van Quang, head of the Intensive Care Unit at Ho Chi Minh City Children's Hospital No. 1, said in most cases, dengue fever patients and their families are found to have ignored warning signs, unwittingly allowing the disease to become serious.

On experiencing high body temperatures, the most typical early symptom of dengue fever, most patients choose to be treated at home, Quang told VnExpress.

After the high fever subsides, people assume they have already recovered.

However, in dengue fever cases, the period following high fever is the most critical, and patients must be carefully monitored every step of the way, he said.

Vietnam has been trying to find an effective way to tackle dengue, one of the biggest killers among the 28 common infectious diseases it faces. The only vaccine for it available globally is not recommended for people who have not had dengue before.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in January the incidence of dengue has grown dramatically around the world in recent decades and that a vast majority of cases are asymptomatic or mild and self-managed, and hence, the actual numbers of dengue cases are under-reported.

The number of dengue cases reported to WHO increased over eightfold over the last two decades, from 505,430 cases in 2000, to over 2.4 million in 2010 and 5.2 million in 2019. Reported deaths between the year 2000 and 2015 increased from 960 to 4,032, affecting mostly younger age groups, it said.

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