Last month, 4,521 dengue cases and 13 dengue-related deaths were reported in Malaysia. These are alarming numbers. Last year Malaysia recorded 49,335 dengue cases and 112 dengue deaths – the worst in the nation’s history.
Aside from dengue fever, there is another virus that is spreading in several Malaysian states: chikungunya. According to a medical specialist, chikungunya is the latest in a long line of diseases carried by mosquitoes, which include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile encephalitis. These diseases are causing 1 million deaths worldwide every year.
In Singapore, dengue cases were down last year but chikungunya infections were up. Last month, 160 chikungunya cases were reported. This figure is high since only 11 chikungunya cases were registered in 2008. This was confirmed by the Ministry of Health, which already included chikungunya fever in its weekly infectious disease bulletin.
Chikungunya is expected to become endemic in Singapore soon. The World Health Organization has reported that chikungunya has become endemic in several parts of Southeast Asia.
In China, eight people have contracted the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus this year. Five of them are already dead. China has slaughtered more than 13,000 birds in the far west where the outbreak was reported. Officials said the epidemic has been brought under control.
The last recorded bird flu outbreak in China was only in mid-December last year. More than 300,000 fowl in eastern China were killed when the disease was discovered.
Vietnam confirmed that there are nine bird flu-hit provinces in the country. The virus was discovered in more than 30 communes in 16 districts in the nine provinces of Thanh Hoa, Thai Nguyen, Ca Mau, Soc Trang, Nghe An, Hau Giang, Quang Ninh, Bac Ninh and Quang Tri.
To contain the bird flu, Vietnam slaughtered over 30,000 fowl, including 11,500 chickens and 21,000 ducks which had contracted the disease.
Five persons tested positive for the Ebola-Reston virus last month in the northern Philippines. The five individuals were from pig farms in Bulacan, Pangasinan and Valenzuela City, and a slaughterhouse in Pangasinan.
According to health experts, this is the first time the virus has been found outside monkeys. There are five Ebola virus subtypes: Zaire, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Bundibugyo and Reston. The Ebola-Reston virus was first found in the Philippines in the late 1980s.
Filipino health officials claim there has been no evidence that Reston can cause significant illness in humans. But the transmission of the virus from pigs to humans has worried many experts. People are more exposed to pigs than monkeys. If the virus is not contained, more humans might be infected with the disease.
Dengue, chikungunya, bird flu and ebola viruses – these are “diseases of globalization.” The forces of globalization are also causing the transmission of viruses around the world. As economies become more interdependent and as more people travel, local viruses become globalized strains. Technological advances in transportation and communication have expanded and improved the global flow of people, capital and goods – and also, unfortunately, diseases.
Controlling the spread of these viruses should be a top concern of governments. Inefficiency in governance is partly to blame for some of the reported outbreaks. For example, critics slam the “protracted silence” of Malaysia on the dengue epidemic last year. The WHO questions the quality of China’s system in monitoring bird flu viruses. Vietnam’s veterinary agencies are accused of providing inaccurate data on animal vaccinations.
Referring to the spread of chikungunya, the WHO warns that the “socio-economic factors and public health inadequacies that facilitated the spread of this infection continue to exist.” It recommends the strengthening of “national surveillance and response capacity through multisectoral approach and active participation of the communities to prevent and contain this emerging infectious disease.”
Recently, the Malaysian government has launched a dengue awareness campaign in response to the rising number of dengue cases. One of the aims is to combat ignorance of public cleanliness. Residents are also encouraged to welcome fogging operations in their villages.
The Philippines’ Department of Health has added an information page on its website about the dreaded Ebola-Reston virus. It has instructed the public on proper meat handling and preparation to avoid infections from pigs.
It’s only the second month of the year but several alarming outbreaks have been reported already across Asia. This looks like a very interesting but scary year.