Worst dengue outbreak on record in Bangladesh kills more than 1,000

Bangladesh’s most severe dengue outbreak on record has killed more than 1,000 people since the beginning of the year, a grim milestone in the surge of the mosquito-borne illness, which scientists have said could worsen as a result of the effects of climate change.

At least 1,030 people have died, and more than 210,000 have been infected in Bangladesh since Jan. 1, according to government data published Tuesday, putting a strain on the South Asian nation’s fragile medical system and sending officials scrambling to mitigate the spread. Among the dead are more than 100 children under 16. The country recorded just 281 dengue deaths for all of last year.

Globally, recorded dengue cases have increased eightfold from 2000 to 2022, according to the World Health Organization.

Raman Velayudhan, who leads the WHO’s program for the control of neglected tropical diseases, said in July that about half of the world’s population is now at risk of the infection. Asia represents about 70 percent of the global disease burden.

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In an August report, the WHO said the situation in Bangladesh was abnormal “in its seasonality and early sharp increase” in cases when compared with previous years. Conditions in Bangladesh are becoming “more favorable” for the transmission of dengue, the organization wrote, as a result of “excessive rainfall, waterlogging, flooding, rise in temperature and the unusual shifts in the country’s traditional seasons.”

Dengue is spread mainly from the Aedes species of mosquito — which can also spread the Zika and chikungunya viruses — and is most often found in tropical and subtropical climates. In Bangladesh, dengue cases have typically coincided with the rainy season from May to September and higher temperatures, according to the WHO.

Most people infected with the virus won’t experience symptoms, but for those who do, high fever, headaches, nausea, body aches and/or a rash are common. In rare cases, dengue can be fatal, and those infected twice are at greater risk for what’s known as “severe dengue.” Mortality rates can be as high as 13 percent in untreated patients, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is no drug intervention for dengue, and treatments typically focus on easing pain and managing symptoms. Early detection can lower fatality rates.

The Americas also experienced significant outbreaks this year, particularly in Brazil and Peru, the latter of which battled the largest outbreak in its history this spring and summer. Medics in Sudan warned last week that cases of dengue were spreading as a result of seasonal rains, Reuters reported.

The virus is also appearing in new areas, and in June, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control sent a warning about mosquito-borne illnesses.

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In Bangladesh, cases have been reported across all 64 districts of the country, with the crowded capital city of Dhaka particularly affected.

In response to the crisis in Bangladesh, the U.K.-based humanitarian organization Save the Children said in a statement: “We must remember that every case of dengue is not just a statistic; it’s a person who deserves a healthy and happy life.”

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