Pakistan: Dengue fever hits Punjab Province

News and Press Release
Originally published
LAHORE, 18 November 2008 (IRIN) - The chief minister of Punjab has stepped in to try to halt the spread of a dengue virus epidemic which has seen 799 confirmed cases and two deaths in the province.

The epidemic appears to be concentrated in Lahore, with 754 cases confirmed. The first death was reported in Rawalpindi late last month and the second a few days later in Lahore.

Zia-ur-Rehman, the focal person for dengue, told the Pakistani media that Ghulam Murtaza, brought in from Sheikhupura some 100km north of Lahore, was the "first patient with dengue to have died in Lahore".

Doctors said he was suffering his second bout of dengue fever - a situation that makes it more likely the disease will assume its more dangerous haemorrhagic form.

Dengue, an acute febrile disease spread by the bite of the aedes aegypti mosquito, has been endemic in Pakistan for the last few years. It spreads most often after the rainy season in July and August, when pools of standing water serve as ideal mosquito breeding spots.

"The authorities failed to eradicate these spots or carry out sufficient spraying. That's why the disease is spreading now," said Farhan Anwar, a general practitioner, who said he has treated "several cases" of suspected dengue fever at his private clinic.

Health official suspended

Acting on reports that the virus was spreading rapidly and that measures to control it had been unsuccessful, Punjab Chief Minister Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif on 9 November called a high-level meeting and ordered the immediate suspension of the Lahore district health officer for failing to control the epidemic.

A task force comprising a government minister, health officials and doctors has been set up to review the situation and suggest measures to curb the virus.

Privately, doctors working at government hospitals, who did not wish to be named, said: "Now it is only the arrival of winter that can kill off the mosquito. Preventive measures such as the spraying of mosquito breeding areas were required earlier in the season."

Raising awareness

On the orders of the chief minister, giant advertisements on measures that can be taken to prevent dengue have appeared in the media.

People have been advised not to allow water to stand in containers, to use mosquito repellents, spray homes and be particularly vigilant at dawn and twilight when the dengue-carrying mosquitoes bite.

"These public service messages are very useful. I have immediately adopted all the recommended steps now that we have been reminded of the need for caution," said Amina Sohail, a mother of two small children.

This increase in public vigilance and awareness may yet halt the spread of a disease that over the past few weeks has struck across the province, say specialists.