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POST TIME: 5 April, 2020 00:00 00 AM
Dengue threatens to open another battlefront in capital
SAUGATO BOSU, Dhaka

Dengue threatens to open another battlefront in capital

Mosquito larvae seen on a road adjacent to Dhaka University in the capital on Friday. Independent photo

The monsoon is less than two months away and the capital city Dhaka will again turn into another battleground in June-July, as dengue, an Aedes mosquito-borne viral infection will spark fear of a fresh outbreak this year.

The mosquito-borne viral infection last year wreaked havoc in Bangladesh with over 150 people including children dying of dengue fever.

The sign of dengue outbreak this year is looming large, as the number of people infected with dengue is about four times higher compared to the same period in the previous year.

Experts say April and May is the high time to control the menace as the situation would be more severe than in 2019, when the menace broke all previous records.

They also pointed out that this time we are also dealing with the coronavirus pandemic but the added threat of dengue could spell a disaster and everything must be done to prevent that from happening.

According to the health services, the months of January, February and March saw no or few dengue cases, as the disease usually appears in

Bangladesh in the post-monsoon period of September and October but the infection in 2019 started from summer (May).

Sources in the city corporation said that it was challenging for the civic body as the water bodies owned by different government agencies were dirty and full of waste. They said it was impossible for the city corporation only to spray insecticides in areas that serve as major breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

According to data of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), a total of 271 dengue infection cases were reported in Bangladesh between January 1 and March 31, while only 73 cases were recorded in the first three months in 2019.

In the two months of January and February, 13 dengue cases were detected in 2013, 22 cases in 2014, 16 cases in 2016, 150 cases in 2017, 33 cases in 2018 and 56 cases in 2019.

In 2019, more than one lakh dengue infected people were hospitalized across the country, breaking all previous records of the past two decades, according to data from the DGHS.

What survey shows

Meanwhile, a recent survey conducted by the DGHS shows that the Aedes mosquito population is likely decline in Dhaka city in the coming days as the density of the dengue-carrying mosquito larvae is low in the pre-monsoon period this year.

The ‘Seasonal Aedes Survey’ was conducted in 2,996 houses of 100 areas under 98 wards of the DSCC and DNCC from March 5 to March 15.

Entomologists use the Breteau Index to describe the number of positive containers per 100 houses inspected. If any area scores of more than 20 per cent on the index, it is considered risky by entomologists. The Breteau Index was above ten in Dhaka North ward 31 and Dhaka South wards 15, 16, 18, 28, 41 and 51. The survey found a higher presence of Aedes larvae in plastic containers—nearly 22 per cent of dengue vector larvae were found in such plastic pots.

Aedes mosquito larvae have been found in objects like plastic drums, buckets, cups, thrown away food packets, water stored in buildings under construction and discarded toys. The health directorate has asked city’s dwellers to remain cautious, though density of Aedes mosquito larvae is low.

What city dwellers experience?

A number of residents of both city corporations alleged that mosquito prevalence and bites have increased alarmingly. Owing to the severe of mosquitos menace they were unable to stay either inside or outside of their houses even during the day.

City dwellers are already in the grip of fear caused by the deadly coronavirus detected in the country. Moreover, the rising cases of dengue patients in hospitals have aggravated the situation.

Mausumi Roy, a resident of Siddeswarri neighbourhood, said that, last year, her daughter was hospitalized for eight days with dengue and in 2018 her mother, too. “This year, I don’t see any improvement. The mosquito menace was high at the beginning of the year. I’m more worried this time.

I cannot imagine my daughter face during the time when she was hospitalized. I cannot think of putting my family in that state ever again,” said Mausumi. Last year, Aedes mosquitoes travelled across the country along with holidaymakers and homebound people during the Eid holidays.

Md Saddam Hossain, a private job holder told The Independent that even in his office he suffered mosquito bites more than last year. He feared there could be more dengue cases this year.

Saddam, a resident of Kalyanpur, said he did not see any fogging or larvacides being sprayed in his area during last one month.

What experts say?

Talking to The Independent, Prof. Kabirul Basher of the zoology department of Jahangirnagar University warned that the dengue situation could be worse than in 2019, if the authorities do not take action now.

“I say it is not alarming for now as the survey was of pre-monsoon. We cannot predict in advance with this season’s data because there is no rain now. If the survey is done after the rain in the months ahead, this figure may be different,” he said.

“The rainy season will begin in full swing from June and dengue is likely to break out badly if the density of the Aedes mosquitoes cannot be reduced and the breeding grounds cannot be destroyed,” he added.

Kabirul Basher, who is also an entomologist, said now was the right time to demolish the habitats of Aedes. The number of dengue patients could increase substantially this year compared to last year if steps were not taken right now. Kabirul said the two city corporations needed to become active now to kill mosquitoes.

Prof. Shahnila Ferdousi, director of disease control and line director of Communication Disease Control of the DGHS, said that it was time to increase the preparedness to reduce the risk of dengue and chikungunya carried by the Aedes mosquito.

“Although the results of the Breteau Index are not alarming, we have to be careful enough from now on,” Prof. Shahnila Ferdousi said. She also urged everybody to keep the inside and outside of houses clean. She said mosquito nets should be used while sleeping.

What authorities say?

On April 2, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the authorities concerned to take immediate steps to check mosquito breeding. Residents of different areas in the capital complained that an increased mosquito menace made it difficult for them to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Talking to The Independent, Brigadier General Momimur Rahman Mamun, chief health officer of Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), said that they had received the survey report conducted by the DGHS. “We do not fully depend on survey reports. We have been doing the fantasies we had planned for the whole year,” he said, adding that due to the coronavirus, our social movement has stopped. We can no longer do that in the community, schools, colleges and society.”

The health officer said, “We are now doing this work through various media. However, there are places mentioned in the survey where larvae presence is high. We have to focus more on the role of citizens in reducing the menace.”

“There are 270 permanent and 540 temporary mosquito control workers. They are spraying insecticides in 54 wards under the city corporation regularly. They are spraying disinfectants (bleaching powder) on roads as well as spraying larvicides. We divided them into different wards. One ward was divided into six parts and given six days,” he said. “Since it is the time to prevent the coronavirus, we need to be more aware. We have provided Prevention Equipment to our employees so that they do not face any difficulty in doing their work,” he added..