Stopping dengue: Don’t let your guard down

Gwendolyn Pang
In the fight against dengue, it's important to disrupt the mosquitoes' egg-laying habitats and not to be complacent

The recently released figures by the Department of Health (DOH) about the prevalence of dengue infections in the country show a rising incidence of the dreaded disease this year.

Compared to last year’s figures, there has been a 16.5% increase in the number of cases or a total of 78,808 persons suspected of contracting the dengue virus this year, within the same period from January 1 to September 5.

So far, the dengue virus has reportedly claimed 233 lives in 2015, and affected thousands more with symptoms that range from mild to severe. These numbers continue to grow every passing day.

The declaration of a state of calamity in the provinces of Bulacan and Cavite are indications that the spread of dengue fever is continuing to rise

Alarming outbreak

During my visit to the General Emilio Aguinaldo Memorial Hospital in Trece Martires City, where their facilities have been overwhelmed by the massive number of patients, I witnessed firsthand just how significant the increase in the number of cases has become.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) is now partnering with the Provincial Health Office and its Epidemiology Unit there to conduct joint dengue dissemination campaigns.

We also deployed 16 nurses, health and welfare services staff and volunteers, who set up an extension of the hospital ward to manage the overflow of patients there. We also brought one Rub Hall which can shelter 100 beds for patients, along with 60 cot beds, 2 power generators, and other items. 

I also conferred with the PHO’s Dr. George Repique Jr. and his management staff to assess needs that the PRC can fill, and ensure the delivery of safe blood and other blood components for those patients who need a transfusion. At the PRC National Headquarters, our Blood Center has already augmented its own supplies to address the needs in the field.

We are conducting similar support efforts, in coordination with PRC’s local chapters, in all the other dengue hotspots in the country. 

Residents in Isabela participate in the province-wide anti-dengue campaign

But what’s even more alarming about this outbreak is that all four varieties or serotypes of the dengue virus seem to be present in the areas where the DOH conducted tests, which could mean an even greater number of at-risk segments of the population being exposed to the vector-borne disease. Infection with one dengue serotype may give lifelong immunity to that specific variety of the virus, or sometimes there will be partial immunity to the other varieties of the virus. But each individual can eventually be infected by all 4 serotypes in their lifetime. Several serotypes can be in circulation during an epidemic, as is the case now.

Who are vulnerable? 

The most vulnerable of these, of course, are children. But all members of the family can be infected in 24 to 48 hours.  One Aedes mosquito may bite all family members in a matter of minutes as this species is known to be easily disturbed during a blood meal. Even if they are not yet finished with one host, they may go to another.

However, since the immune systems of children are not as developed as adults, their risk of contracting dengue is higher, and once infected, the potential of serious illness or even death is also greater for them.

Luckily, those of us who care for the most vulnerable in our society, including the parents of these children, are not helpless in the face of the dengue virus’ spread. 

At the Philippine Red Cross, we urge our chapters and volunteers to combat the dengue virus by encouraging schools and barangays to implement preventive measures such as defogging. 

How to fight dengue 

In our experience, the best way to eliminate the threat of dengue is to disrupt or remove the natural breeding grounds of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the primary vector of dengue. Stagnant water is the most common breeding ground of the dengue mosquito, and so wherever water puddles, or water containers are present, there is a possibility of mosquitoes using them to lay eggs.

In areas where we have a presence, our chapters and volunteers urge everyone to combat the dengue virus by encouraging schools and barangays to implement preventive measures such as defogging, which kills the adult mosquito. But the most effective method is to dispose of stagnant water or sanitize their containers.

We have to ensure that the places where we and our children spend most of our time are safe, and this means focusing our efforts in our households, workplaces and their schools.

It used to be that the dengue virus outbreaks happen most during the rainy season, but we are now seeing similar trends even when it’s hot, due to changing weather patterns.

This should teach us that what’s important in the fight against dengue is to disrupt the mosquitoes’ egg-laying habitats, whether man-made or natural.

We must also be aware that even simple measures such as putting up window screens and wearing long sleeved clothes are very effective in preventing the deadly bite of the dengue mosquitoes. The same can also be said of using mosquito repellents, planting eucalyptus trees, placing citronella inside every room, and using permethrin treated clothing.

Even the humble “kulambo” or mosquito net is a very effective weapon against mosquito carrying the dengue virus.

But once symptoms of dengue fever are suspected or observed, like fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, we must be proactive and go to a doctor to have it officially diagnosed and treated, if necessary. 

This is crucial because infected persons are the main carriers and multipliers of the virus, serving as unwitting sources of the virus for uninfected mosquitoes. The virus is then transmitted to people through the bites of infected female mosquitoes. 

And while recovery from infection provides lifelong immunity against that particular serotype, it doesn’t protect any of us from being infected by the other three serotypes of the dengue virus, which means that we should be eternally vigilant against this dreaded disease.

Recently, the province of Bulacan declared a state of emergency due to an increase in the number of dengue cases in that area. While we hope that this can be addressed adequately by the government, the PRC stands ready to assist anywhere we can make a difference.

The public can rest assured that the PRC has the capability to put up extension hospitals anywhere in the country to address congestion problems in a particular area. 

We also have enough blood supply in our 27 blood centers and 82 blood banks nationwide to fill any gap in supply. 

But more than anything, we hope that the public realizes that the best way to fight the spread of the dengue virus is personally addressing the problem where we live, study, and work. – 

For blood requests and blood donations, please contact Philippine Red Cross National Blood Center at (02) 7902383 or (02) 7902300 local 116 and 151.

Dr. Gwendolyn Pang is the current Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross 

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