First quarter of 2020 saw four times higher dengue incidents
Dengue, an aedes mosquito-borne viral infection, is on course to hit the country this year too as the number of people infected with the disease is about four times higher compared to the same period a year ago.
Last year alone, the number of dengue incidents broke all previous records of the past two decades. Projecting a grim outlook, health experts are of the view that if the prevailing trend continues, the year 2020 does not seem promising either.
Between January 1 and March 31, a total of 271 dengue cases were reported in Bangladesh, according to data made available by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) shows.
In comparison, only 73 cases were recorded in the first three months in 2019.
Dhaka city dwellers have already been overwhelmed by fears of the deadly coronavirus outbreak while the rising cases of dengue patients in hospitals have aggravated the situation — triggering more alarm.
Imam Reza Rafi, an undergraduate student residing in the city's Rayer Bazar neighbourhood, was hospitalized for five days last year with dengue fever. In his words, the aftermath of having been ill with the disease was even worse than his five days in hospital bed with IV cannula.
"I was discharged from the hospital, but then again, I suffered from excruciating aches and headaches for weeks to come. I could not think of putting myself in that state ever again," Rafi told Dhaka Tribune.
In 2019, breaking all previous records since 2000, the year when the dengue outbreak was documented for the first time, a staggering total of 101,334 people were hospitalized across the country until December 29, 2019, according to data by DGHS.
Mohammad Sarwar Hossain, executive director of Biomedical Research Foundation, told Dhaka Tribune that he feared there would be more cases outside Dhaka this year as the dengue outbreak was at its peak during Eid holidays last year.
Mosquitoes travelled across different districts along with holidaymakers and homebound people. Mosquitoes laid eggs in different parts of Bangladesh and thus hatched during monsoon.
"People who were infected once before are at more risk. If the aedes mosquitoes carry a different strain of virus and subsequently bite a person who was infected before, then that person will have to suffer more complications clinically compared to the first time," he said.
Subsequent infections (secondary infection) increase the risk of developing severe dengue, he added.
Aedes mosquitoes can contain four types of viruses. Type 1 and type 2 were prevalent till 2016 and type 3 has its predominance since 2017, said Sarwar Hossain, who is also the head of the Department of Environmental Management at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).
Anway Patowary, a resident of the city's Uttara outskirts, suffered from dengue fever and in his words: "I have absolutely no desire to revisit those memories."
He told Dhaka Tribune that he had been living in the same apartment for the last few years. However, the rising number of mosquitoes he notices after sunset in his apartment forced him to revisit the dreadful days he had endured from dengue previously.
"I cannot put down the mosquito bat even for a moment. There are a lot of under-construction sites around our apartment which are probably the breeding grounds for mosquitoes," said Anway.
"Who is going to tell the people concerned that under-construction sites are favourable for mosquito breeding," he questioned.
Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Chief Health Officer Brigadier General Momimur Rahman Mamun told Dhaka Tribune that people were getting infected by aedes mosquitoes although it is not the peak season for breeding.
"People are still getting sick with dengue fever because the eggs hatch when it is submerged under water. Eggs could live up to one year on a dry surface and become potent when come in contact with water," said Mominur Rahman.
Mosquitoes lay eggs which hatch into larvae or “wrigglers” that live for a while in water, then emerge as new adult mosquitoes, he added.
Spotting places with mosquito larvae is a big challenge for them because they are microscopic, said the chief health officer.
When asked, if the coronavirus outbreak will leave DNCC short-handed to contain dengue incidents this year, he said, DNCC has assigned the health workers to deal with coronavirus related works and 540 workers will do their regular jobs like fogging and spraying everyday across 54 wards.
He also said city dwellers need to keep their surroundings clean and the cleaning exercise should be carried out on a regular basis.
Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon, who was criticized for his failure in preventing dengue outbreak last year, said the mosquito-control workers would make door-to-door visits in mosquito-prone areas to destroy Aedes larvae and train people on how to terminate mosquitoes.
He also urged city dwellers to keep their houses and surroundings clean to prevent dengue cases.
A judicial report submitted to the High Court on March 9 found lax preparedness and partial negligence on the part of both the city corporations for the dengue and chikungunya outbreak that broke out in Dhaka last year.
It recommended coordinated measures among government agencies to prevent the spread of vector-borne illnesses. It also advised to conduct surveys in February and March every year to evaluate mosquito prevalence, and to set up a central authority to control mosquito menace across Bangladesh.