Distressing rise in dengue cases

Overlooked in all the excitement over the coming Christmas holidays is the alarming report this week by the Department of Health (DOH), showing how dengue cases have tripled in number as of November, compared to the same period last year. It’s proof positive that the public health scourge has returned with a vengeance.

According to the DOH’s disease surveillance report, the number of dengue cases as of Nov. 5 this year rose by 191 percent to 196,728, from 67,537 cases reported last year. The death toll likewise surged year-on-year to 642 from 247.

Central Luzon had the most cases with 38,640, followed by Metro Manila with 22,666, and Calabarzon with 16,575. As for deaths caused by the mosquito-borne disease, Central Visayas, specifically Cebu and Bohol, had the most at 98, followed by Central Luzon and Western Visayas with 83 each.

Cagayan Valley, meanwhile, recorded the highest increase in dengue cases with 16,522 cases, 1,819 percent more from the 861 cases posted in the same period last year.

The DOH earlier pointed to increased mobility with the lifting of pandemic restrictions as the main reason for the spike in dengue cases. Other culprits are trash lying around and stagnant water that collect in bags, plastic containers, bottles, and used tires where mosquitoes breed.

Dengue is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes, and is common in tropical areas like the Philippines, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas.

Most of those hit by dengue experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, from which they recover. Others, however, may develop severe dengue that could prove fatal. The symptoms of severe dengue include abdominal pain, blood in the vomit or feces, bleeding gums or nose, frequent vomiting, or extreme tiredness or restlessness.

To its credit, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) sounded the dengue alarm as early as September when cases showed signs of escalating, and called on local government units (LGUs) to do more to prevent the spread of dengue in their communities.

“Dengue remains a public health threat, [so] … LGUs must take a proactive stance and implement strategies to protect our people in the communities from this deadly disease,” DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said in a statement.

Among other measures, Abalos suggested that barangays activate the Aksyon Barangay Kontra Dengue, a multiagency effort started in 2012. Through this program, barangay officials and residents are tasked with conducting cleanup drives in their communities, and to be extra vigilant to ensure that potential patients get immediate medical attention.

Abalos also reminded the public to practice the so-called “enhanced 4S”: search and destroy breeding sites, seek early consultation, self-protection, and say “yes” to fogging and spraying.

That cases continue to rise, however, indicates that pleas to LGUs to help prevent the disease have not been taken seriously. The unnerving numbers should spur local and national government officials into urgent action because, left unchecked, the case numbers and fatalities may increase exponentially, straining the resources of the public health sector that is currently dealing with other equally important public health concerns.

The DOH, for instance, has noted 551 chikungunya cases from Jan. 1 to Nov. 5, a surge of 589 percent from the same period last year, with Calabarzon logging the most cases, followed by Central Visayas and Davao.

While not as fatal as dengue, chikungunya could be as debilitating to vulnerable individuals like children and the elderly as it also causes fever and severe joint pains, headaches, nausea, and fatigue.

There’s also the COVID-19 virus that remains very much around even if quarantine restrictions have been downgraded to a minimum, with the country striving to go back to the new normal before the unprecedented pandemic hit in March 2020. In fact, the OCTA Research Center has raised the possibility of a surge in COVID-19 cases toward the end of the year due to people’s increased mobility. As of Nov. 26, the positivity rate in the National Capital Region rose week-on-week to 11.1 percent, from 7.5 percent.

Other provinces also showed increasing trends in virus transmission. In Benguet, the positivity rate, which shows the number of people turning up positive for COVID-19 out of those tested, rose to 27 percent from 24.7 percent; in Ilocos Sur, it surged to 32.9 percent from 21.7 percent; and in Cagayan, it hit 18.2 percent from 14.4 percent.

Given these disquieting numbers, there’s need for the concerned government agencies to focus their attention and pour more resources on making sure these deadly diseases don’t spin out of control. Preventive measures and concrete actions are in order lest these diseases become the Grinch that will steal the spirit of this year’s Christmas.

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