KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 – With global attention riveted on the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, other infectious and equally lethal diseases like dengue are being marginalised.
Like COVID-19 for which no cure has been discovered yet, there is no specific treatment for dengue too although the vector-borne disease has reportedly been in existence since 1902.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia public health specialist Associate Prof Dr Rozita Hod expressed her concern that the threat posed by dengue may be forgotten amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Dengue fever is caused by four different types of viruses transmitted to humans by a bite from the female Aedes mosquito of the aegypti and albopictus species.
“As we all know, dengue is dangerous as it can cause death and there is no specific cure for it. Right now while we are busy fighting COVID-19, people are starting to forget how dangerous dengue is,” Dr Rozita told Bernama, adding that like COVID-19 cases, dengue infections are also rising.
According to http://idengue.arsm.gov.my/ – which cites statistics provided by the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre’s Dengue Operations Centre at the Ministry of Health – a total of 35,847 dengue cases were reported in Malaysia between Dec 29, 2019, and April 7, 2020.
A total of 58 deaths due to dengue were reported between January and April 4 this year.
The six states with the highest number of dengue cases were Selangor with 21,851 cases, Johor 2,881, Kuala Lumpur 2,627, Sabah 1,956, Kelantan 1,366 and Perak 1,112.
COVID-19 VS DENGUE
Dr Rozita said although in Malaysia COVID-19 deaths, which stood at 89 as of yesterday, were higher than dengue fatalities, dengue should not be taken lightly as it has affected far more people than COVID-19.
“The number of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia stood at 5,389 as of yesterday, but in the case of dengue over 30,000 cases were reported between Dec 29 and April 7,” she pointed out.
Not all dengue cases are treated in hospitals as only those suspected to have dengue haemorrhagic fever are warded; the rest are given fever medicine but are required to go for follow-up checks at the nearest clinic, she explained.
Considering that government hospitals and clinics are now busy handling COVID-19 cases, the last thing they would want is an upsurge in dengue cases.
The current rainy season is an invitation for Aedes mosquitoes to breed as they lay their eggs on the inner, wet walls of containers with water, above the waterline, and each mosquito can lay up to 100 eggs at a time.
“Don’t assume that just because your house is clean, you won’t be bitten by the Aedes mosquito as this vector breeds in clear stagnant water. Its habitat can be any container, flower pot, old tyre or shoe that’s filled with rainwater and lying in a corner of the garden,” said Dr Rozita.
The Aedes mosquito does not lay eggs in ditches, drainages, canals, wetlands, rivers or lakes.
With the six-week Movement Control Order in force now, families have no option but to stay at home. Those residing in landed properties, in particular, must ensure that their compounds are free of Aedes mosquito habitats as children tend to spend a lot of their time playing in the garden.
“Look out for the plastic mini pool for kids… even though the water has been drained out (after the children have used it), mosquitoes can still breed there because the plastic structure may remain wet as it is not water absorbent,” Dr Rozita said.
She said studies have even found mosquito larvae in upturned plastic caps of mineral water bottles.
“All they need is just a little bit of water. Even the plastic garbage bag we leave outside the house can be a breeding area for the vector,” she added.
People who live in flats and apartments are not spared either as the mosquitoes can fly into the units through any opening and lay their eggs in vases or uncovered water storage tanks.
“Use this MCO period to get rid of all receptacles around your house where water can collect. Don’t just throw away the water but also clean the walls of the containers with a brush to get rid of any eggs. You can also spray hot water of more 80 degrees Celsius on it to kill the eggs,” she said, adding that it only takes about 10 minutes to destroy the breeding grounds of the Aedes mosquito.