As Covid abates, Nepal sees dengue outbreak

All Photos: Suman Nepali

For the past two years, the preoccupation of the government and people of Nepal has been with the pandemic. But just as the fourth wave of Covid-19 started to subside, Kathmandu and other towns across Nepal have been hit by dengue outbreaks.

For the past few weeks, Shukraraj Tropical and Communicable Disease Hospital in Teku has been crowded with patients with fever. At first, epidemiologists there thought it was a new Covid strain, but the symptoms were different: severe body ache, eye pain, high fever and nausea.

In Kathmandu Valley, there were hotspots mostly in inner city Patan and the outskirts. Hundreds of patients have been admitted into hospitals, and the number of cases diagnosed in hospitals has surpassed 1,000 -- more than in the previous outbreak in the summer of 2019.

Last year, there were only 10 patients at the Teku hospital in the second week of August last year, whereas there were 295 dengue patients just in the past week.

This week, 120 dengue cases were reported in Lalitpur, 70 in Rupandehi, 110 in Kathmandu, and dozens more in Nawalparasi West and Bhaktapur, seven each in Dhading, Gulmi and Kapilvastu, six from Arghakhanchi, and five each from Tehrathum, Sindhuli and Makwanpur. There are six patients with dengue in ICU.

The number of dengue patients in hospitals has now exceeded those suffering from Covid. Doctors say there are probably thousands more with dengue fever recovering or being treated at home.  Dengue is transmitted from one infected person to the next by bites of the Aedes aegyti mosquitos during the day, and is caused by four different virus sero-types. Patients infected with one serotype of the virus will not have immunity against the other three types and there can be multiple infections.  Also called 'break-bone fever' patients contract the disease 3-7 days after the mosquito bite, and the high fever usually lasts up to a week, although it leaves the weak for up to a month.

There is no treatment for dengue, since antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Doctors recommend paracetamol to ease pains and to bring down fever, and plenty of fluids. More severe cases of dengue can result in internal haemorhage and may require hospitalisation.

“People still do not believe that mosquitoes bite during the day. While sleeping at night, they adopt all the safety standards from the hammock, but they ignore it during the day," says Sher Bahadur Pun, the head of the hospital’s clinical research unit.

He says that measures should be taken to avoid mosquito bites in schools and offices as well as at home. “People are aware when they are at home, but they should be most aware in schools, offices, areas where houses are under construction and there are pools of stagnant water,” he says.

Pun's informal survey among patients at Teku showed that a third of them do not even know that dengue is transmitted by mosquito bites during the day. This is why the viral fever is spreading among students, with cases of entire classes of some schools being sick.

Pun also warns against taking strong medications for dengue, and says that certain pain-killers and antibiotics can actually make the patients' condition worse.

“Dengue causes severe body ache, so people look for strong medications for this. We have been giving cetamol for fever, which sometime does not alleviate pain like other painkillers,” says Pun. "However, using Brufen, Flexzone, Nims can be very harmful."

A study conducted  at Teku Hospital on the outbreak of dengue in Nepal from 2006 to 2019 found that many patients had become sicker because of prescription medicines they took without consultation, or because doctors had prescribed the wrong medicine thinking it was some other kind of fever.

Recently, Pun came across a dengue patient  who was bleeding from the eyes after taking Flexzone continuously for five days. "I had never seen such a case before," he says, "patients who are being treated at home should be admitted to the hospital immediately if they have serious problems."

Read more: The dangers of the dengue virus, Tom Robertson

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