The number of people contracting dengue fever in Phnom Penh has dropped since January, when a high incidence of the illness triggered health alerts. But health workers said Friday they remain concerned about a possible rainy-season epidemic.
“We have to pay attention to dengue cases because the number of dengue cases is still high,” said Dr Duong Socheat, vice-director of the Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Center.
The major children’s hospitals in Phnom Penh reported 80 dengue hemorrhagic fever cases in April—three times as many cases for the same month as last year. At least one patient died.
The April figure is twice as high as a number established by health workers to indicate a warning for a possible future epidemic.
Dengue fever is spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, or tiger mosquito. In the rainy season, the striped mosquitoes’ larvae hatch in standing pools of water.
The disease peaks between June and November, which is why high rates of the disease this early in the year have health officials concerned.
Dengue fever usually affects small children and foreigners who have not built up resistance to the disease. The fever usually is accompanied by high fever, muscle pain and red spots the size of pinpricks.
In January, health officials recorded 247 cases of the disease, 10 times the number recorded in the same month last year.
In order to control the unseasonal outbreak, the Ministry of Health, the municipality and the World Health Organization sprayed all quarters of Phnom Penh with insecticide twice. They also distributed an over-the-counter product called Abate—a chemical that kills mosquito larvae in still water—to about 130,000 families.
As a result, dengue fever last month dropped by more than 50 percent since January.
Dengue fever is now high throughout Southeast Asia. Some have attributed the increase to the El Nino weather pattern.
International aid agencies such as the European Union, USAID and the German government have pledged or are considering substantial aid to help prevent a health disaster here.
“There is still a danger of an outbreak this rainy season, but every effort is being made to be able to quell the outbreak if it should occur,” said Dr Stefan Hoyer, dengue and malaria project officer for the World Health Organization.
Cambodia was hit hard by dengue fever in 1995, when more than 10,000 contracted the disease and 400 died—99 percent of whom were under the age of 15.
Early data from the National Malaria Center seems to show that dengue fever is also affecting Battambang, Pursat and Kandal provinces.
Hoyer said people should keep the windows of their houses open during routine sprayings. Then the insecticide—which is non-toxic to humans—can get into the homes and kill mosquitoes.