Living Well in Myanmar

Educate yourself on dengue and help reduce its spread

Earlier this month health officials from children’s hospitals in Myanmar reported higher than usual numbers of patients requiring admission for dengue fever. This trend, combined with the World Health Organization’s estimate that Myanmar has the highest incidence of dengue in Southeast Asia, means families should be watching closely for dengue symptoms and taking steps to prevent its transmission.

Dengue disease is a fever caused by a virus that can either be like the flu or become something much worse. It is spread when a mosquito of the Aedes aegypti species bites an already infected person, then bites someone else.  

The global spread of dengue has been facilitated by urban environments that give the Aedes mosquito access to many sources of standing water in areas of dense human population. It breeds in puddles of clear water and prefers to live in cooler, dark places like in a closet or under a bed. Even the trade of used tires may help introduce the disease into new territories.

Most who are exposed to dengue by a mosquito bite won’t notice, as the immune system will usually fight it off. Unfortunately, in some instances the virus is able to replicate sufficiently to cause symptoms which commonly include a few days of fever, headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle pain, joint pain and perhaps a rash. Most people recover spontaneously and require no further treatment. However, a small proportion of patients go on to leak fluid from their blood vessels.  This is called Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever and it requires hospitalisation.

Serious complications occur more commonly in children, young adults and people who are overweight. Blood tests help with diagnosis, but doctors also watch out for increasing abdominal pain; heavy vomiting; bleeding from nose, mouth or gums; swelling; and difficulty breathing, any of which requires an immediate trip to the hospital. 

Like the flu, dengue fever is more common during the rainy season. Based on the early symptoms it can be difficult for your doctor to differentiate between the two. Patients, and especially children, should be very closely watched to see which direction an illness with fever is heading.

The main thing to remember is that if you have flu-like symptoms for 3 to 4 days and then your sickness gets worse, it’s time to visit the doctor. If your child is the one with flu symptoms, please call the doctor to make a plan to monitor him or her for dengue right away.

Most importantly, take steps to reduce your risk of dengue. Eliminate all sources of standing water, including barrels, drums, jars, pots, buckets, flower vases, plant saucers, tanks, discarded bottles, tins, tires, water coolers, refrigerator drip pans and anywhere rainwater collects.If possible, keep screens on your windows, use mosquito repellent or coils if necessary and – since the Aedes aegypti bites in the daytime – don’t forget to protect small children with bednets during daytime naps.  © Christoph Gelsdorf 2013