KUCHING: Dengue is an arthropod-borne viral disease and one of the highest contributors to human morbidity and mortality in the country, and continues to become a national health problem.
It is caused by any one of four types of dengue viruses spread by mosquitoes that thrive in and near residential areas.
Its viruses are transmitted to humans through the bites of a striped Aedes aegypti mosquito that has previously bitten an infected person and its method of spreading is by the bite of an infected mosquito and not directly from person to person.
The disease is most prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions and has now penetrated urban and semi-urban areas.
Dengue fever occurs after the person is bitten by the infected mosquito in which the symptoms typically begin three to 14 days after being infected.
It is a severe, flu-like illness that affects infants, young children and adults, but seldom causes death.
Common symptoms are such as aching muscle joints, disappearing and reappearing body rash, lengthy high fever, intense headache, pain behind eyes, vomiting and nausea.
While most people would recover in a week, in some serious cases the symptoms continue to worsen to the point that it becomes life threatening.
After recovering from a dengue fever, the patient would develop immunity to the type of virus that infected them, but not to the other three dengue fever virus types.
The risk of developing severe dengue fever, also known as dengue haemorrhagic fever, actually increases if you’re infected a second, third or fourth time.
Dengue haemorrhagic fever patients would display symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, bleeding from gums or nose, presence of blood in urine, stool or vomit.
Bleeding under the skin resembling bruises, breathing difficulty or rapid breathing, cold or clammy skin, fatigue, irritability or restlessness are also symptoms of the haemorrhagic fever.
It is advisable for patients to visit the nearest hospital if they find themselves contracting the symptoms of haemorrhagic fever as it can damage the lungs, liver or heart. Blood pressure can drop to dangerous levels, causing shock and, in some cases, death.
For populations living in areas of high dengue incidence, a dengue fever vaccine, Dengvaxia, is suggested for those aged nine to 45 as it is most effective on the particular group.
This is because younger children are found to be at an increased risk of severe dengue fever and hospitalisation two years after receiving the vaccine.
Dengvaxia prevents dengue infections slightly more than half the time and it is administered in three doses over the course of a year.
While World Health Organization (WHO) views that the vaccine is not an effective tool to combat dengue outbreak, especially in areas where the illness is prevalent, the most critical part of its prevention is to limit the mosquito population and its exposure to humans.
This can be done by putting a halt to the breeding of Aedes mosquitos. Unwanted containers that can hold water should be disposed of responsibly. Potted plants and flower vases should be cleaned and scrubbed thoroughly to remove mosquito eggs once a week.
The water in containers should be changed weekly and added with larvicide to the recommended dose. An alternative to this is to cover the water containers completely.
Although the step to curb Aedes’ breeding is formidable in residences and living spaces, it is not as practical when travelling.
The best practice for those travelling in common dengue areas is to avoid being bitten by the disease-carrying mosquitoes.
This can be done by staying in a well-screened housing premise. While the disease-carrying mosquitoes are most active from dawn to dusk, they can also bite at night.
Mosquito repellants are also effective to deter the risk of contracting a mosquito bite. In daytime, the use of mosquito coils and electric vapour mats is a good preventive measure.
This coupled with wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and shoes would mitigate the risk of being infected with the disease.
In essence, while there is no specific treatment for dengue fever, it is advisable to take preventive measures from contracting the disease.
This are such as stopping the Aedes mosquitoes’ breeding and ensuring cleanliness in household areas.