Dengue fever cases have flooded hospitals in northwestern Laos and those in Cambodia have reached an “alarming level” with deaths rising rapidly, while Vietnam is reeling from a higher number of victims compared to last year, health officials say.
The disease is striking Laos and Cambodia in particular at a time when the two countries are contending with seasonal outbreaks of malaria and other infectious tropical illnesses, and as they struggle with weak health care infrastructure systems.
Dengue fever is caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes and mostly affects younger children. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles. The infection occasionally develops potentially lethal complications.
In Laos, cases have more than tripled up to late August this year from the same period last year to 3,758 from 1,173, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nine deaths have been reported so far this year.
In northwestern Laos, the country’s worst-hit Oudomxay province has seen hospitals flooded with patients as officials bring in dozens of additional beds to cope with the rising demand for treatment.
But they say that the buildings are now overcrowded and that many people have been forced to sleep outside in tents.
“The hospitals are packed. We set up 30 additional beds and tents outside of the building and along the hallways to accommodate the patients,” said one provincial hospital official, who asked to remain anonymous.
“The number of cases keeps increasing.”
According to an official report, the number of patients in Oudomxay province suffering from dengue fever reached 1,124 on Sept. 9.
The report said that all provincial and military hospitals had been filled and that the provincial health department has been forced to hire more health workers and volunteers to handle the recent increase in patients.
The Oudomxay health official said that resources are strained in the impoverished province and called for assistance to meet the growing needs of health care workers trying to treat patients.
“We are asking individuals and private businesses to donate money, water, and other materials to help health workers who are working hard, day and night. They are exhausted,” he said.
“The most badly needed supplies are coffee and drinking water. We also ask that the public lend their support by helping to destroy the mosquito population and their habitat.”
In Cambodia, the Ministry of Health on Tuesday announced that a recent epidemic in the country had reached an “alarming level,” with Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Oddor Meanchey, and Kandal provinces most severely affected.
Senior health officials reported that in the first eight months of the year, the disease had killed 134 children, up from only 48 deaths last year, and sickened 32,000 others, compared to only 11,020 cases a year ago. Among the fatal cases, 70 percent died of gastrointestinal bleeding.
They said that the outbreak is the worst since 2007, when at least 400 children died and more than 36,000 children were sickened.
Director of the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control Chor Meng Chour said the Ministry of Health is focusing on the provinces that have been affected by heavy rainfall, which creates conditions for mosquito breeding.
“This year … the outbreak has lasted longer,” he said. “Right now, the epidemic has surpassed the national red line.”
In Cambodia, the outbreak of dengue fever usually begins at the onset of the rainy season in May and lasts until October.
Meas Ly, a 70-year-old villager from Kompong Cham province, said the residents of his district don’t have enough larvicide to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in swamp areas and local waterways.
“We don’t have Abate yet,” he said, referring to a larvicide product. “We want the government to distribute Abate to us.”
Ministry of Health officials said they have reserved about 320 tons of Abate for distribution but so far have released only half of that. They said the ministry spends around U.S. $2.5 million annually to fight the disease.
Last year, the Cambodia reported 15,980 dengue fever cases that killed 73 children.
In Vietnam, the WHO said some 29,010 dengue cases with 20 deaths were reported up to the end of July compared with 22,853 cases and 22 deaths last year.
There is no vaccine for the disease, but it is treatable through rehydration or by blood transfusions in more severe cases.
Reported by Sok Serey for RFA’s Khmer service and by RFA’s Lao service. Translated from Lao by Max Avary and from Khmer by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.