By Karin Ronnow | Sonia Shah Organization | 13 Sept., 2017
As the spread of dengue fever reached has reached epidemic proportions in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, Sonia Shah School officials are working hard to prevent spread of the mosquito-borne virus.
“All students and staff are clear so far,” Mahnaz Ishaq, volunteer operations director, said Wednesday.
Dengue virus is transmitted by bites from infected female mosquitos, which breed in standing water. The best preventative measure is to kill the Aedes aegypti mosquitos and their eggs.
“I just spoke with the village,” SSO president and chair Iram Shah said Wednesday. “The government is spraying in the village, including the Sonia Shah School. We are also testing our staff. So far all clear. Apparently, it is spreading in the city of Peshawar [the provincial capital] faster than in the village. We are keeping a close eye, especially on the women.”
Dengue’s symptoms — including high fever (40°C/104°F), severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands and/or a rash, — typically last two to seven days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, if it evolves into severe dengue, aka dengue hemorrhagic fever, patients can experience respiratory distress, severe bleeding, organ impairment and death.
In some regions of Pakistan this year, severe dengue “has become a leading cause of hospitalization and death among children and adults,” the WHO reports.
Since there is no cure, early detection and proper medical care are key to keeping death rates down.
More than 2,000 dengue cases in Pakistan have been lab-confirmed in Pakistan as of this month. Of those, 1,279 are in KP, according to a WHO Sept. 3 report. The disease has already killed 20 people in the province and an additional 666 people were infected in KP just this past weekend.
“The current situation needs to be responded [to] with a sense of urgency,” WHO has warned. “Dengue fever … [is] difficult to control.”
More than half, 52 percent, of confirmed cases in KP have been among adults age 25 to 64; followed by 29 percent among teenagers and young adults (15-24); 16 percent among children (0-14); and 3 percent among people over age 65.
A WHO dengue investigation in Peshawar in August found a “huge number” of uncovered water containers at houses and workshops; 80 percent of water samples tested positive for the virus. Dengue is typically found in tropical and sub-tropical climates, most commonly in urban and unplanned semi-urban areas.
The KP government’s effort thus far includes massive insecticide-spraying campaigns (fumigation prevents mosquito eggs from turning into larvae) and health workers going house to house to warn about standing water and distribute mosquito repellant.
KP Health Services has advised all school and college students to wear long-sleeve shirts and pants and apply insect repellent to their hands and feet, The Express Tribune reported. Schools should also treat or drain all standing water — in drainages, water air coolers and even flower vases — in and near schools; hold daily dengue-awareness sessions in schools; and suspend morning assemblies since mosquitos usually bite in the two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset.
Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics according to the WHO. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries, with at least 390 million infections per year and 3.9 billion people at risk.
“The global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades,” the WHO reports. “About half the world’s population is now at risk. … Not only is the number of cases increasing as the disease spreads to new areas, but explosive outbreaks are occurring.”
In KP province, this week’s seasonal rains have not helped.
“Our efforts have been flushed away and we expect an increase in dengue cases,” Peshawar’s Deputy Commissioner Saqib Raza Aslam said. “Mercury levels have also dropped post rain, which is a catalyst for the egg-to-larvae process of a mosquito’s life cycle.”
However, he added, “We have not lost hope and will double the efforts involved to avoid another outbreak.”