The Financial Express

Dengue and Covid-19: A deadly combination  

Shamsul Huq Zahid   | Published: April 19, 2020 22:12:26 | Updated: April 20, 2020 22:32:45

Dengue and Covid-19: A deadly combination   

With the deadly coronavirus reaching every corner of the country, the threat of another viral disease--- dengue--- is now looming large on the horizon.

Four stereotypes of dengue virus---DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4--- responsible for dengue fever are, however, far less deadly than Covid-19, caused by coronavirus. The latter has so far infected more than 2.2 million people across the globe. The number of deaths has also crossed 0.15 million.

Last year, more than 100,000 people, according to official records, were afflicted in different districts with dengue fever that claimed about 200 lives. However, unofficial estimate puts the figure much higher. 

Compared to the havoc now being wreaked by the coronavirus across the world, in terms of fatalities and economic loss, dengue is a minor health problem. In fact it does not even deserve any mention under the prevailing circumstances.

Yet, for Bangladesh, it could be a serious problem, if necessary awareness building programmes among its population in urban concentrations are not launched right now.

At the moment, community transmission of Covid-19 is on in the country and, it is feared, the number of both infection and deaths would continue to rise. However, none is certain when the disease, actually, would start abating. Some say it could be in the first week of May next, others predict it to continue for some more weeks. Then there exists a real risk of resurgence of the disease when the authorities would start relaxing the lockout. That, experts say, will be even more deadly.

If dengue starts affecting people alongside Covid-19, the ongoing health crisis is sure to aggravate further.

All attention of the health sector people are now focussed on dealing with the Covid-19 emergency. Thousands of people afflicted with other ailments have stopped visiting hospitals and physicians for many weeks. Even out-patient departments in public hospitals are not working properly. Many doctors scared of coronavirus have stopped attending patients.

In such a situation, if dengue infection reaches the last year's level in the coming monsoon, it could trigger yet another health crisis.

Dengue infection last year reached an unprecedented level with the disease reaching all the administrative districts of the country for the first time. Thousands of patients got themselves admitted to public health facilities up to upazila level. Attending doctors and nurses had a tough time to manage a huge rush of dengue patients.

However, dengue,barring some severe cases where patients if not treated properly may die, is a far less complex disease than Covid-19. The fatality rate remains below 1.0 per cent. A simple blood test would detect the presence of the virus, if there is any.

Dengue infection usually takes place in urban and semi-urban centres because the aedes, vectors responsible for causing the disease, have better scopes to breed there than in rural areas.

The best way of managing dengue remains to be the destruction of breeding ground of aedes mosquitoes. That is the area where households and local governments, in most cases, fail to act. In addition to that, the urban authorities are required to spray chemicals that can destroy the larvae of aedes.

Dhaka has been the epicentre of dengue outbreak for many years. For the last couple of years, the city hospitals, both private and public, were overwhelmed by the abnormally high incidence of dengue. The outbreak did also expose the inexcusable failure on the part of the two city corporations to keep the disease under control. They neither could create a general awareness among the city residents nor did they put in place any effective mosquito eradication programme.

Another bout of outbreak is not far away, it seems. But nothing is heard from the top notches of the two city corporations. Actually, the two newly-elected city mayors, apparently, prefer to remain invisible when their constituencies have become the epicentres of Covid-19 outbreak.

That appears very strange. Allegations of mismanagement in the treatment of corona patients are aplenty. Frontline health workers have been complaining about the short supply of personal protection equipment and patients about maltreatment in hospitals. But, the city fathers are seen nowhere during this unprecedented health emergency.

The mayor of New York (NY) city could be a shining example before them. The NY mayor almost regularly has been holding press briefings and explaining the situation involving the management of Covid-19 patients.

Our mayors could, at least, make an appeal to the residentsof Dhaka city, through the media, to remain indoors and maintain social distancing strictly. Such advises come from various quarters but mayors' words carry weight of their own.

Now, the two city mayors do need to do one particular favour to the Dhakaites. They should gear up their health officials and mosquito eradication sections to launch a vigorous drive against dengue. Any failure to keep the disease to a minimum level might prove very costly this time as the outbreak would coincide with that of far deadly Covid-19.



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