Dengue was once just an intermittent part of the landscape, tropical Philippines being hospitable to the mosquito that spreads the virus. Now and then, stories spike of not only children but also grown men and women being felled by the disease, and hospitals filled to overflowing with patients.
But dengue is now a clear and present danger all year round—no longer “a rainy season disease,” according to the Department of Health. In a report, the DOH’s epidemiology bureau said the number of dengue cases in the country has risen a startling 35.7 percent, from 42,026 in Jan. 1-June 25, 2015, compared to 57,026 cases during the same period this year. That’s a lot of lives endangered by dengue, and the death toll reflects this: 148 dead in 2015 and already 248 this year.
First identified in the 1950s, dengue is spread by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito; the first documented cases were in the Philippines and Thailand. The disease has since struck worldwide, with over 100 countries at risk and 390 million infections yearly. It takes 4-10 days to become obvious, with a high fever and flu-like symptoms. (But that’s exactly what it’s not. It’s important not to mistake it for the common flu.) It does not have a cure. The only thing to be done is to maintain the patient’s bodily fluids until the disease runs its course. It’s crucial that dengue be detected early, as the proper medical attention can lower mortality from 20 percent to just under 1 percent. Left unchecked or identified, dengue kills.
It also spreads quickly, as with any disease with a vector spread by mosquitoes. This is something Filipinos know too well; we’ve been living with dengue for so long it now seems ordinary.
But ordinary it’s not; it’s dangerous. It’s virtually everywhere. The regions currently hardest hit are Calabarzon (7,463 cases), Central Visayas (5,783), Central Luzon (5,586), Northern Mindanao (5,521 cases) and Soccsksargen (4,583). Eastern Visayas has the undesirable distinction of being the region with the biggest spike in cases, a whopping 206-percent increase from 610 last year to 1,870 this year. Davao has a 138-percent rise, and Central Visayas, a 137-percent increase.
To think there is now a dengue vaccine. It does not guarantee against contracting the disease, but helps limit the risk of hospitalization by 80 percent and lower its life-threatening aspects. Developed by the French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, Dengvaxia was approved for use last December by the Food and Drug Administration, and the Philippines became the first country to use it.
The DOH under then Health Secretary Janette Garin launched an immunization program to administer Dengvaxia to grade school students aged 9 and up with parental consent. “We are the first country to introduce, adopt and implement the first-ever dengue vaccine through the public health system and under the public school setting,” Garin said. “With this breakthrough, we can now increase our immunization services to address a disease that is of public health importance.”
The vaccine is a great step forward in the battle against this recurring plague, but the fundamentals of fighting dengue remain the same. More than ever, the 4S campaign is an important weapon to use: 1) Search for and destroy mosquito-breeding places; 2) Use Self-protection measures; 3) Seek early consultation for fever lasting more than two days; and 4) Say “No” to indiscriminate fogging.
“With the right information and unified action, we can protect our family against dengue,” was Garin’s battle cry.
If there’s anything Filipinos should learn in dealing with dengue’s frightfully resilient nature, it’s that one can never be too vigilant in cleaning up one’s surroundings and keeping an eye on one’s loved ones. As always, prevention is key. In this case, the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is patently true. Think how effectively you can resist the virus by maintaining a clean environment and upending the mighty mosquito’s possible breeding grounds.
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