Laos is gripped by a deadly surge in dengue fever cases, with at least 50 people dead so far this year in an outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease expected to be one of the country’s worst.
Some 14,000 dengue cases have been reported so far, at least a 10-fold jump over the same period last year, and the number is expected to rise in coming months as the rainy season progresses. Official media have predicted that 250 people could perish this year from the deadly disease.
The World Health Organization said this week that infections had reached the level of an epidemic alert, and last week the organization’s representative in Laos Li Yungguo warned that Laos could face “the worst dengue epidemic in its history.”
Health officials are encouraging the public to donate blood and to clear out sources of water that could be breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypt mosquito, which spreads the disease.
A health official in Champassak province, one of the epicenters of the outbreak, told RFA’s Lao Service that the situation was worsened by those reluctant to go for treatment until they were very ill instead of getting treatment right away.
“The deaths are mostly caused by refusal to go and seek treatment from the hospital,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They use cold medicine to treat themselves at home for seven or eight days until their conditions get worse.”
Health officials have been encouraging people to seek treatment early to avoid giving others the virus, which is world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease.
“We are conducting an awareness campaign urging people to avoid home treatment, to instead go and seek treatment and advice from medical staff,” an official in the capital Vientiane said.
Another official said Friday that the city had reported about 1,300 infections with one death so far.
“At his death he was bleeding from the mouth and nose,” he told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official said the capital has enough medical personnel and drugs to deal with the situation compared to other areas, but has only one fumigator—equipment used to spray chemicals in the city to kill mosquitoes that spread the disease.
Most deaths from dengue fever in the country have involved children under the age of 15.
So far this year, the infection rate for dengue fever has increased tenfold compared to the number of recorded cases in the same period last year.
The peak infection period usually falls in September and October, and state media has reported around 28,000 people will be infected with dengue fever this year, with some 250 projected fatalities.
Liu said there could be serious economic and social consequences for Laos including deaths; overloaded central, provincial, and district health-care facilities; and incapacitated workers.
Last year, almost 10,000 people were infected with dengue in Laos, causing 22 fatalities, according to the Vientiane Times.
Laos is one of several countries in the region seeing record numbers of people infected with the mosquito-borne virus. The others are neighbors Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia.
The higher prevalence of dengue is attributed to fluctuating weather patterns, the hot weather, and heavy rainfall— conditions that are conducive to high breeding rates of mosquitoes.
There is currently no approved vaccine or specific drug treatment for dengue fever, which globally kills some 20,000 people every year out of between half a million and one million people infected with it.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.