Dengue fever, transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, has affected millions of people in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia this year. The killer disease spreads as experts fear a new vector is to blame.
The death of celebrated Indian filmmaker Yash Chopra as the result of dengue fever this week has people talking about the far-reaching tentacles of the infectious disease. The fever, also known as "breakbone fever," causes intense pain in muscles and joints and is a debilitating disease. It is spread by the bite of the Aedes aegypti, or the Asian tiger mosquito, that thrives in tropical and subtropical regions.
This year has seen a sharp increase of dengue cases across Asia. According to India's National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, 17,104 people in the country have been affected by the disease in the first nine months of this year in the country alone. Of them, 100 have died.
The rapid transmission of the virus has led experts to believe that a new vector is to blame as thousands have been admitted to hospitals in several parts of the southern, western and northern regions of Asia.
"This year we are witnessing a manifold increase in cases. The patterns of dengue are also changing. The fever goes on for weeks. It disappears and later returns," Dr. Avdhesh Aggarwal, an Indian public health expert, told DW.
The disease grows throughout Asia
An outbreak of the fever in Cambodia has killed 14 children this year and over 2,280 people have been affected by the potentially deadly disease there - a rate of infection estimated to be four times higher than the same period last year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Similarly, the Sri Lankan government has been grappling with a mass outbreak of dengue, one of the worst it has seen in the last few years. In the last six months, the country has registered 12,336 suspected cases and 75 deaths caused by it.
The situation is not much better in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and East Timor, where dengue has also been on the rise, though fatalities there have been down.
"There is no known treatment for dengue. With no drugs, and a potential vaccine a long way off, our only way of controlling the fever is to target the mosquitoes which carry it," Dr. Abbas Bhuyia, a government doctor from Dhaka told DW.
Aside from muscle aches and pains or a fever, most people who are infected with dengue are asymptomatic. But if the disease progresses, it can lead to organ failure and severe internal bleeding. The only relief in this phase is often blood transfusion. Bhuyi said that thousands in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka were thronging blood banks as there was a shortage of blood and many poor patients were especially affected, as they could not afford transfusions.
Awareness campaigns are of vital importance
"Those who are under treatment in government hospitals can get platelets from government blood banks but supplies are running low. Patients in private hospitals have to approach private blood banks," he explained.
After malaria, dengue fever is the second most widespread mosquito-borne disease in the world. The WHO has estimated that between 50 and 100 million people suffer from it each year.
Despite being a historically tropical disease, dengue is now emerging in Himalayan countries such as Nepal and Bhutan. Most patients survive dengue, but it is estimated to kill over 20,000 every year, many of them children.