Worst dengue outbreak in Malaysia

(The Straits Times) – Malaysia is going through its worst dengue outbreak ever, health officials said yesterday, with higher rainfall and public apathy being blamed for encouraging the widespread breeding of the Aedes mosquito.

In the first 28 days of this year alone, 14 people have died and 5,062 cases have been recorded. This compares with five deaths and 2,855 cases in the same period last year.

“This is the worst outbreak ever,” Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican told reporters yesterday.

If the trend of 14 deaths a month were to continue for the rest of the year, the number of deaths this year would be higher than the 112 recorded last year.

There was a record total of 49,335 cases last year. In 2007, there were 48,846 cases with 98 deaths.

Officials said the present outbreak is mainly centred in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

Dengue fever is endemic in Southeast Asia, and cases in Malaysia have surged since 2003.

Despite annual outbreaks and government campaigns to raise awareness, Dr Ismail lamented that many residents were still unaware of the risks involved in allowing mosquitoes to breed on their premises.

He identified 54 housing estates — 48 alone in Selangor — that have continued to notch many new dengue cases for more than a month.

Of these 54 areas, only five have conducted voluntary community clean-up sessions, while the rest have so far failed to implement any remedial measures.

“It is important for the public to come together to destroy the mosquito breeding grounds,” Dr Ismail said.

He said many households in affected areas refuse to allow the local authorities to conduct pesticide fogging to kill the Aedes mosquito that transmits dengue fever.

“They take it for granted. They think it will never happen to them,” he told The Straits Times yesterday.

He warned that the government could fine households RM100 and organisations RM300 each time they refuse to allow fogging. A total of RM3.4 million was collected last year, he said.

Global warming and unpredictable rainfall have also contributed to the spread of the disease, as stagnant water collects in containers, pots and drains, allowing mosquito larvae to build up, he added.

He noted that the outbreaks were mainly in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, where there is “a lot of urbanisation and abandoned projects” that could provide breeding sites for mosquitoes.

A dengue survivor, Mahani Hashim, said she is all for maintaining clean surroundings after recovering from dengue just four weeks ago.

While she has always been fussy about cleanliness, she is even more vigilant now, checking nooks and corners in and outside her house.

“Now I spray every corner with mosquito repellent in case there are mosquitos hiding there,” the 34-year-old personal assistant told The Straits Times.

“I also check for water that may have accumulated in containers and I clear clutter in my house diligently. I don't want to get dengue again.”

Health Minister Datuk Liow Tong Lai warned recently that the dengue outbreak could discourage tourism and lower productivity.