Busting dengue myths | Inquirer Opinion

Busting dengue myths

/ 05:03 AM June 23, 2024

The mosquito may be smaller than the lion, aka the king of the jungle, but it is considered the most dangerous animal in the world. Despite its diminutive size, the mosquito spreads deadly diseases including dengue.

But there are so many false beliefs surrounding dengue that, together with other factors such as climate change and the lack of government commitment to invest in research and development, contribute to the public’s grave misunderstandings about the virus. Such misconceptions often lead to a false sense of security among the public that they are immune from infection. Dispelling these myths is crucial to saving lives.

One of the myths is that dengue spreads only during the rainy season—not true. Infection can happen at any time of the year. The Department of Health (DOH) did issue a dengue warning last month due to the onset of the rains but Filipinos must be aware that while dengue is more prevalent at this time, anybody can be infected all year round. The DOH even reported a rise in dengue cases over the summer attributed to the El Niño phenomenon, with the warmer temperature believed to speed up the metabolism of mosquitoes. “There’s no longer a wet or dry season involved. It could thrive all year round,” said Dr. Shelbay Blanco, head of the Health Emergency Management Services in Central Visayas, which reported nearly 7,000 dengue cases with 18 deaths from January to June.

Most vulnerable

The country, meanwhile, recorded more than 60,000 dengue cases from January to May, with highly urbanized areas including Metro Manila seeing a spike in infections.


Children, particularly those aged six to 10 years old, are the most vulnerable to the virus but anybody, regardless of age, can be infected. Understanding this is crucial for everybody to take the necessary precautions.

An infection does not provide immunity from dengue, which has four serotypes. An individual can still get the virus, again, from the other types.

There’s also no truth that dengue is contagious. It is not transmitted through sneezing, saliva, or other secretions, but is transmitted through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito. Dengue mosquitoes can bite at any time of the day, not only at night. They can also lay eggs in dirty water or environments, as well as in stagnant, still, clean, or clear water. In addition, not all mosquitoes carry the dengue virus—only the Aedes mosquito. However, other types of mosquitoes can cause other diseases like malaria.

‘Tawa-tawa’ plant

But the most prevalent myths about dengue involve its cure. Social media is replete with false information including that “siling labuyo” or wild chili can cure dengue and help normalize the patient’s platelet. This false claim, said to have been “proven and tested” on children, has gained traction on Meta recently though it has been circulating for at least seven years with testimonials accompanied by photos to give it credibility. AFP recently published an article fact-checking this claim and quoted several doctors who said taking chili can even be harmful and aggravate the patient’s condition due to gastric irritant factors, aside from the fact that there is no scientific evidence to back this claim.A rather popular false claim is the “Tawa-tawa” plant as a remedy for dengue. “For now, Tawa-tawa [or Gatas-gatas] is only registered as a supplement. Further studies are needed to see [its] effect … against dengue,” said DOH Central Luzon Center for Health Development entomologist Jeffrey De Guzman. The DOH also dispelled the notion that herbal medicines or antibiotics—which are for bacteria—are a remedy for dengue.


Fear of vaccines

Other false dengue cure claims involve food components such as coconut, clove, or citrus as an antidote or natural repellant. That these claims continue to spread, and that there are still people who believe in them, shows how the lack of critical thinking on social media has become a deadly virus on its own.

Yet, despite the rise in cases, the DOH said no manufacturer has applied for an intent to supply dengue vaccines to the country. In 2017, the government suspended administering the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia over fears that it could pose health risks for people not previously infected. The controversy affected the public’s confidence in vaccines, which impacted the government’s vaccination drive during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than the myths previously mentioned, it is this fear of vaccines that the DOH must first address.


The best action, absent a cure for dengue, is early detection and immediate consultation once symptoms manifest. Prevention remains better than cure including fogging and destroying mosquito breeding sites and self-care to avoid infection. Most importantly, the DOH must be more aggressive in its dengue information drive, particularly on social media, to prevent more people from falling for dengue myths that will only further endanger their health. As the Filipino saying goes: “Maraming namamatay sa maling akala.”

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