Dengue fever, a tropical viral disease carried by mosquitoes, is ravaging the country of Bangladesh like never before. The number of those affected by the illness is growing at exponential rates, leading to the country’s largest outbreak on record.
Over 1,000 people, most of whom were children, were diagnosed with the disease — whose symptoms include severe headaches, muscle and joint pain, high fever and rashes — over a 24-hour period earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said on Tuesday.
"Since we started keeping record of dengue cases, which is from 2000, this is the worst dengue outbreak we have seen in Bangladesh," Ayesha Akhter, assistant director at the Directorate General of Health Services, told CNN.
In 2019 alone, there have been more than 13,600 reported cases of dengue and eight dengue-related deaths. July saw the most dramatic rise in the number of infected persons, with 8,348 cases reported in July compared to 1,820 in June and 184 in May, according to official records.
The virus, which is transmitted by female mosquitoes, has traveled to over 50 districts in Bangladesh, hitting the capital city of Dhaka harder than anywhere else.
According to the World Health Organization, every year an estimated 500,000 dengue cases out of millions reported are so severe that hospitalization is necessary. Around 12,500 cases are fatal.
Some hospitals in Dhaka, home to 20 million residents, are almost filled to capacity, and are running out of space for the growing number of dengue patients in need of medical attention.
"We are making sure all the government and private hospitals have all the resources to tackle this outbreak. We have opened a special section at Dhaka Medical College Hospital for dengue patients," Akhter said.
The Philippines is also seeing a drastic increase in cases of dengue, with 100,000 reported cases in the first half of the year — an 85% rise in comparison to the same period last year. The country declared a national alert over the disease earlier this month after 450 people died of dengue this year.
Mosquito-borne illnesses are on the rise across Asia, with recent studies showing multi-drug-resistant strains of malaria heavily affecting countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Standard drug treatment that has been widely used in the past against malaria has been found to be ineffective against these strains.
More concerning, these tropical diseases show no signs of slowing down. Experts believe that it is increasingly possible they could spread to areas not usually threatened by them, such as the southern United States, inland Australia, and coastal regions of China and Japan — potentially due to climate change.
A study recently published in NatureMicrobiology, assessing the current and future global trends of dengue fever, suggest that increasing temperatures around the world could cause one female mosquito species in particular, known to carry numerous diseases, such as dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika, to travel to these new regions.
There is no treatment for dengue itself, only its symptoms. But, according to the WHO, the best methods of prevention against related fatalities are early detection and access to health care.
In an effort to stem the current outbreak, Bangladesh’s Disease Control Division is working in collaboration with the WHO on a national dengue response strategy, which will include access to more rapid testing, health experts, and other technical support. The country’s health ministry said that it is working on other methods to address the quick-spreading disease, like national treatment guidelines and informational advertisements in newspapers aimed at raising awareness about the virus.