Dengue Fever A Lesser Concern This Year

Dengue fever, the mosquito-borne illness that claimed the lives of more than 400 Cambodian children last year, has proven to be less of a menace so far this year, according to health officials.

Ngan Chantha, the Health Ministry’s national dengue program manager, said Thursday that from January through May 2008, Cambodia has seen 2,156 cases of the virus and 23 deaths. That compares to 20,836 cases and 256 deaths in the same period of time last year.

“Now, it is quite better if compared to last year,” he said.

While nearly every province was affected last year, this year’s outbreaks have been more isolated, and cases have also been linked to a different strain of the virus than last year.

The districts of Tbeng Meanchey, Kulen and Choam Ksan have been hit hard in Preah Vihear province, Ngan Chantha said. Tbeng Mean­chey and Kulen have never experienced outbreaks before, which means villagers have not had the opportunity to build up immunity and they are likely less knowledgeable about dengue prevention.

Siem Reap’s Chi Kreng and Siem Reap districts have also been hit, in addition to Kompong Thom province’s Stong and Prasat Balang districts and Kompong Cham province’s Prey Chhor district.

Ngan Chantha attributed this year’s improved outlook to in­creased health awareness and prevention efforts after last year’s epidemic, which was the worst in nearly a decade and led to nearly 40,000 cases overall in Cambodia.

Swiss pediatrician Beat Richner said by telephone Thursday his five Kantha Bopha hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have seen a total of 2,200 severe dengue cases this year and have had a fatality rate of 1.5 percent among those cases.

Richner said the children who have died have suffered from liver failure due to drug intoxication.

“They received too many drugs or the wrong drugs outside,” he said.

He also said that only 10 percent of the families seeking his care have reported receiving the mosquito killing chemical abate, and that he attributes the decrease in dengue cases this year to the general cyclical nature of the virus rather than prevention efforts.

“It is much better than last year. There are about four times less cases, but this is because of the cycle, not because of prevention,” he said, adding that adequate prevention would have eliminated cases entirely.

Chang Mohseng, a World Health Organization vector control scientist, urged against complacency.

“The health sector should not relax,” he said.

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