DHAKA: Rising temperatures and a longer monsoon in Bangladesh because of climate change are providing optimal conditions for the dengue-spreading mosquito, experts said, as the country grapples with its worst-ever outbreak of the viral disease.
The death toll from Bangladesh’s outbreak in 2023 is 1,476 as of Nov 12, with 291,832 infected, official data showed. Hospitals have struggled to cope with the rising number of patients in the densely populated South Asian state.
The death toll this year was more than five times that of 2022, marking the deadliest outbreak since authorities began tracking dengue-related loss of lives in 2000. Kabirul Bashar, an entomologist and zoology professor at Jahangirnagar University, expressed astonishment, stating that in his 25 years of mosquito research, he has never witnessed such a severe outbreak. Bashar attributed the situation to changing climate patterns, citing unusual mid-October monsoon-like rains that create an ideal breeding environment for the Aedes mosquito, which is adapting to the altered conditions.
Dengue, commonly prevalent in South Asia during the June-to-September monsoon season, is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito thriving in stagnant water. This mosquito, known for causing “breakbone fever” due to severe muscle and joint pains, has demonstrated a capability to breed in various environments, including dirty sewers and saline seawater.
The outbreak in 2023 marks the first time dengue cases have been reported in all sixty-four districts of Bangladesh, with a total population of approximately 170 million. Bashar emphasized the need for year-round vector surveillance to closely monitor the disease’s spread.
Physician Janesar Rahat Faysal noted that this year’s dengue cases presented different symptoms, with some patients initially diagnosed with only coughing. The absence of symptoms in many dengue cases suggests that the reported numbers may underestimate the actual prevalence of the disease.
Despite the absence of a specific vaccine or drug for dengue, early detection and proper medical care can significantly reduce mortality to less than 1% of those infected. However, hospitals in Bangladesh are strained, with an overflow of patients and a shortage of intravenous fluids crucial for treating severe cases. Some individuals, like Sirazus Salekin Chowdhury from Dhaka, have resorted to home treatment due to the difficulty in finding proper beds and necessary medical supplies in hospitals.