"Take precautions against Dengue Fever", advises HK Centre for Health Protection

The Centre for Health Protection has urged people to take precautions as one new case of Dengue Fever has been confirmed in the past week in Hong Kong.

The patient had been in Singapore and Indonesia during the incubation period. There have been 11 confirmed cases so far this year, all imported. 

A mosquito-borne tropical disease, Dengue Fever is thought to affect somewhere between 50 to 100 million people annually in over 120 endemic countries. It’s particularly prevalent in the Philippines and Thailand, and increasingly on the mainland.

If you travel to Thailand, be aware, the number of dengue cases is expected to spike this year. "The 2016 caseload may be on par with the last big outbreak in 1987, when there were about 170,000 cases, said Dr. Usa Thisyakorn, professor of paediatrics at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and chairwoman of Asian Dengue Vaccination Advocacy (ADVA)" (as reported by SCMP). “It is quite, quite bad. Last year, in 2015, we had 140,000 cases. We predict that this year, we will also have a bad season,” said Dr Usa.

The Centre of Health Protection in Hong Kong advises that comparatively few people contract dengue fever locally, but it’s worth noting that there were 31 confirmed cases in 2005, compared to 103 in 2013. Last year, three people are known to have picked up the disease locally, and 105 imported cases were confirmed. Asia has the most cases, with 67 million people infected per year, researchers say.

“Increased travel to countries where dengue is endemic means that more people return carrying the dengue virus in their blood,” says Dr Yau Wing Him of Quality HealthCare Medical Centre – Discovery Bay. “Increasing cargo transport from these countries can also inadvertently import dengue-infected Aedes mosquitoes.”

Experts from across Asia met to discuss the introduction of the first ever dengue vaccine to control and prevent the disease.

Symptoms and treatments

Dengue Fever, which is the world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), causes flu-like symptoms and can develop into the deadly dengue haemorrhagic fever.

Ten-year-old Cheung Sha resident, Lauren Price tested positive for dengue fever just two days into her holiday in Bali in October, 2014, and it’s therefore possible that she picked the disease up here in Hong Kong. Her symptoms included tiredness, headache and stomach ache, and a high fever (39.6ºC), which lasted for three days.

“She was lethargic and didn’t eat much,” says Lauren’s mum, Lindsey. “She was red in colour and hot to the touch, and her hands and feet were cold and clammy. She became very weak and suddenly vomited with no warning and then collapsed on the bathroom floor, which is when we called the emergency doctor.”

“There are four different serotypes of dengue viruses (Den-1, -2, -3 and -4),” explains Dr Yau. “They are not graded in terms of severity, but each can cause dengue fever, or the more severe and potentially fatal dengue haemorrhagic fever, which causes sufferers to bleed or haemorrhage and can lead to circulation collapse.

“In most cases, dengue fever acts as a severe flu-like illness, lasting between three to 10 days, with common symptoms including the sudden onset of high fever, severe headache (especially behind the eyes) and muscle and joint pain,” Dr Yau adds. “Those who recover from one serotype of dengue fever have immunity from that particular serotype, but not the other three.”

Hospitalisation can be necessary for sufferers with dangerously low blood platelet or white blood cell counts, and those in extreme pain. But according to Dr Yau, most cases are treated symptomatically. In Lauren’s case, it was a matter of keeping her body hydrated, and waiting for her blood platelet count to return to normal.

While general measures to prevent mosquito bites (such as spray) will reduce your chances of getting infected, Dr Yau says the most important thing is to avoid stagnant water, where mosquitoes breed. “Sanofi Pasteur is currently developing a vaccine, with early trials showing it prevents dengue fever in just over 50% of those vaccinated,” he adds.

Be aware that the Aedes mosquitoes are also believed to spread the Zika virus. The clinical symptoms of Zika are usually mild and often similar to dengue, leading to fears that Zika will spread into all parts of the world where dengue ispresent. Zika’s rapid spread through Latin America is put down to the prevalence of Aedes aegypti and a lack of immunity among the population.

You can contact Dr Yau at Quality HealthCare Medical Centre – Discovery Bay on 2987 5633.

Also, you should read about the Zika Virus

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