LAHORE, 28 October 2008 (IRIN) - Health authorities in Lahore have confirmed 144 cases of mosquito-borne dengue fever in the city since August.
District Health Officer Muhammad Hanif said fumigation and public health awareness campaigns were being carried out to tackle the problem, and that no patients had died. A meeting of senior health officials took place on 27 October to review the situation.
Pools of rainwater after the monsoon offer an ideal breeding ground for the distinctively striped aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the four serotypes of the dengue virus from an infected person to a victim.
"Cooler weather, when it arrives in November and December, will kill off the mosquitoes, but till then there is a risk of dengue. There are also many seasonal viral sicknesses around, and people often confuse the shivering and high fever caused by these with dengue," said Muhammad Omar, who works at a clinic in Lahore.
He said recently many patients who came in with fever "sought reassurances that they did not have dengue". Omar said dengue was "easily treatable" and that the more dangerous dengue haemorrhagic fever, which causes bleeding form orifices, "is more likely to occur when a person previously infected by one virus serotype is infected by another".
The fact that dengue has occurred in cycles of about six months each year since 2006, when the first large-scale outbreak was reported in Karachi and Sindh Province claiming at least 50 lives and affecting over 4,000 people, means there has been increased awareness about the disease.
The Lahore health authorities have been fumigating potential mosquito breeding sites as well as trains coming into the city from Karachi, where dengue is often more widespread. District public health officer Amjad Jafri told The News newspaper that all bogies of trains run by Pakistan Railways were "fumigated twice a day" to try and prevent the spread of dengue.
In 2006 and 2007, dengue was believed to have spread to northern cities, including Lahore and Islamabad, aboard trains coming in from southern parts of the country.
"As I got off the train at Lahore after travelling from Karachi late last month. my luggage was heavily sprayed with pesticide and so was I. It was a bit of a shock, but I was told it was to control dengue, so that was OK," said Javed Saleem, 30.
Government campaigns, which in recent years have included programmes on radio and advertisements in newspapers, have created awareness about the disease. Many people recognise that "the striped mosquito is dangerous" and that water should not be left standing in open places. The fact that more people know about the illness also means they are more likely to seek prompt medical help when there are suspicious symptoms.
But despite this, problems still crop up. Six members of staff at Shaikh Zayed Hospital, a public sector facility, were reported last week by the local media to have been infected by dengue. An isolation ward for dengue patients established last year was not functional this year.
"Mosquitoes carry dengue from one infected person to another. In hospitals, where there are a number of infected people, it is important to keep them isolated and to ensure mosquito nets are used," said Omar.