21 January 2013

Kenya: World Health Organisation Issues Alert Over Dengue

Health facilities in Mandera town have been strained as hundreds of patients sought treatment, following the spread of the Dengue fever disease. ( Resource: Dengue Fever Outbreak in Mandera, Kenya

THE World Health Organisation has sent out an alert on dengue viral disease, which it describes as a "pandemic threat".

However, the head of Disease Prevention in the ministry of Public Health, Willis Akhwale, has assured the public that the situation is under control.

The little known disease is transmitted by female mosquitoes, and is associated with wide movement of people and goods.

Speaking on phone on Thursday, Akhwale assured the public that measures have been put in place to avert any threats that may be caused by dengeu.

"We never had this disease for a very long time, but two years ago we received cases of people who had contracted the disease," Akhwale said, adding that most of the patients hailed from Mandera.

Akhwale says the cases that were reported were brought in by the African Mission on Somalia troops stationed in the war-torn country.

"There have been reported cases of dengue in Somalia and Ethiopia, and the disease has obviously affected people living in Mandera due to their border point connection with the two states."

According to WHO, dengue is the world's fastest-spreading tropical disease, which is infecting an estimated 50 million people across all continents.

It has similar symptoms to those of malaria; a factor Akhwale says has affected most patients who have been diagnosed and given improper medication.

WHO says the disease, which affected only a handful of areas in the 1950s, is now present in more than 125 countries, significantly more than malaria which has historically been known as the most notorious mosquito-borne disease.

"In 2012, dengue ranked as the fastest spreading vector-borne viral disease with an epidemic potential in the world, registering a 30-fold increase in disease incidence over the past 50 years," the WHO statement said.

While appealing for vigilance from the public to contain dengue, Akhwale said last week the division carried out an experiment on eight samples of the disease, and seven of them tested positive.

"This should not cause fear to the public as we have been working with teams on averting the disease, and the cases have gone down," he said.

Late last year, an estimated 2,000 Europeans were reported to have suffered from the outbreak which affects approximately two million people worldwide, causing 5,000 to 6,000 deaths annually.

A specialist from WHO's Neglected Tropical Diseases department, Raman Velayudhan, says the figures are conservative: "Dengue is the most threatening and fastest spreading mosquito-borne disease. It is pandemic-prone, but it is a threat only. Definitely a bigger threat now than ever."

Speaking to a news briefing after the WHO released a report on 17 neglected tropical diseases affecting one billion people, Velayudhan said the mosquito has silently expanded its distribution.

"We are trying to address this in a more systematic way, by controlling entry of vectors at points of entry as well as the ground crossings," Velayudhan said, noting that it was hard to detect mosquitoes and their eggs.

Dengue causes flu-like symptoms that subside in a few days in some patients. However, severe cases may require admission to hospital, as they may develop complications such as intense bleeding.

There is no specific treatment but early detection and access to proper medical care lowers the effects to less than one percent.

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