PETALING JAYA: Dengue infections may continue to rise into the new year if the rainy weather persists while healthcare resources continue to be focused on Covid-19, say public health experts.
To keep dengue in check, experts are urging the public to do their part by doubling their efforts to eradicate potential mosquito breeding spots, especially with the impending arrival of the northeast monsoon, which is expected to begin in mid-November, and last until March next year.
Public health advocate and Volunteers For Community Engagement and Empowerment for Covid-19 (VCEE19) chairman Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said the recent rise in cases, if not well controlled, will lead to more infections and place undue burden on the healthcare system.
“From our past experiences, intermittent rains and the rainy season may cause (higher dengue) cases due to more Aedes mosquitoes breeding.
“The Health Ministry should increase surveillance, including early detection. People should seek treatment at the clinic if they show signs of fever,” said Dr Zainal Ariffin, who also urged the public to actively comb their surroundings to prevent mosquito breeding.
Professor in public health at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Medicine Faculty, Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh, said due to the rainy season, water may accumulate around the house, which may provide the perfect opportunity for Aedes mosquitoes to breed.
“This might be unintentional, but since many houses do not look after cleanliness, mosquitoes may breed,” she said.
Dr Sharifa Ezat also pointed out that during Covid-19 lockdowns, many properties, including construction areas, may have been neglected and ended up being Aedes breeding grounds.
She added that the healthcare system’s focus on Covid-19 means less resources are available to implement vector management measures such as fogging, sur- veillance and the tracking of indexes.
“Budget for public health activities are also stretched thin.
“We have been facing multiple infectious diseases one after another such as influenza, hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) and others,” she said, adding that a Covid-19-focused populace may have also forgotten the impacts of dengue.
She advised the public to clean and check for areas that can potentially collect stagnant water to prevent mosquito breeding.
“If you need to store water, ensure the containers are closed, use larvicide, or breed fish in these containers,” Dr Sharifa Ezat said.
Other preventive measures include wearing long sleeves, using insect repellent, and installing insect-proof netting over windows.
“Also watch out for rashes with fever among household members as it could be dengue,” she added.
Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Prof Dr Sanjay Rampal said the increase in reported dengue fever cases may be due to either differential reporting or it could also be an actual increase.
“There may have been an underreporting of dengue cases over the past (few) years, with heightened focus on Covid-19.
“With the ‘normalisation’ of healthcare this year, notifications of dengue cases may have improved,” said Sanjay, who advised Malaysians to do their part to clear potential breeding habitats.
Dengue fever cases nationwide have increased by 125.8% while deaths rose by 81.3% in the 42nd epidemiological week (EW 42), compared to the same period last year.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Thursday that there were 48,109 cases and 29 deaths due to dengue-related complications reported up to the EW 42, compared to 21,308 cases and 16 deaths for the same period last year.
In addition, 51 hotspots were also reported during EW 42, led by Selangor (30), Sabah (11), Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya (eight), as well as one hotspot each in Kedah and Melaka.
Dr Noor Hisham added that the combination of rain and warm weather is conducive for mosquito breeding, and advised the public to sweep their surroundings for at least 10 minutes every week to remove potential breeding grounds.