The chikungunya infection is well on its way to turning into an epidemic, according to the findings of a group of researchers at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) who are monitoring the rapid spread of the mosquito-born viral disease.
Dr SK Jakaria Been Sayeed, indoor medical officer at the DMCH who is one of the researchers, said since they started the research in May, they have found at least 300 cases of chikungunya at the DMCH till date.
“In the first month of our research, we found 65 cases, but the number has grown to 300 as of now,” he told. “We have also found some cases where chikungunya patients have died.”
This is indicative of an epidemic, Jakaria said.
However, this research is focused on the DMCH only.
Jakaria said they had sent their research findings abroad for expert opinion. “We hope to reveal our findings in a week or so,” he added.
However, Prof Dr Khan Abul Kalam Azad, head of the medicine department at the DMCH and principal of the Dhaka Medical College, who is leading the chikungunya research team, said the situation might not be so severe.
“The number of CHIKV positive patients have reduced in the last one week,” he said.
Asked about the 300 chikungunya cases at the DMCH, he said: “Some of these patients have recovered from the fever but are still suffering from joint pains, so they came back for better treatment.”
He said he could not yet confirm whether the number of fresh CHIKV infection had increased or not.
“Our research team is working to find out whether the joint pains are caused by chikungunya or other viral disease,” Azad said. “We have to consider dengue outbreak too as the aedes mosquito population is on the rise right now.”
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) also says that the chikungunya outbreak is not epidemic.
IEDCR Director Prof Dr Meerjady Sabria Flora said starting in April the institute tested 3,000 blood samples for CHIKV infection until July 12, of which 649 samples tested positive.
“The number was 196 until May 25, which increased to 649 by July 12. So the disease has not spread so much that it can be termed epidemic,” she told.
However, IEDCR data of the last one month shows that the institute received about 1,249 emails from several hospitals informing them about chikungunya infected patients.
The IEDCR did not reveal whether the emails came from hospitals in Dhaka alone or around the country, nor did they confirm the number of patients mentioned in those emails.
Mayors under fire for late response
The two mayors of Dhaka are being criticised for not responding in time to prevent the chikungunya outbreak.
People have expressed outrage on social media as well as news media, saying the two mayors were too late to take measures to control mosquito infestations, which is why the disease spread around the city so rapidly.
However, both Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Annisul Huq and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Mayor Sayeed Khokon refuted the allegations on Thursday.
Sayeed Khokon said the DSCC’s mosquito control programme had been in progress as usual, and in addition to that, they launched a crash programme to control mosquito outbreak, as they do every year.
He further said the DSCC was also conducting awareness programme about chikungunya and its treatment.
Khokon said a special programme would be launched today to destroy mosquito habitats in his jurisdiction.
DNCC Mayor Annisul, too, said they were periodically spraying insecticides to control mosquito infestation in Dhaka North.
He hoped that the menace of chikungunya would be gone from the city soon.
What is chikungunya?
Chikungunya, caused by the infection of CHIKV virus, is transmitted by infected mosquitoes causing fever and severe joint pain. Other symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. Death is rare, but not unheard of.
There is no cure for the disease. Treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms.
Dr Jakaria Been Sayeed said the infection can spread to a patient’s brain and cause behavioural changes; patients may become aggressive and/or restless. However, he did not say if the changes were permanent.
Elderly people, as well as people with diabetes, rheumatism and arthritis are especially vulnerable to this infection, he added