SAIDU SHARIF, Pakistan, Oct. 15 (UPI Next) -- Pakistan's Swat district is recovering from its first dengue fever outbreak, with the number of new patients dropping, the doctor in charge of the district health department says.
Authorities declared an emergency in the area Sept. 18. The outbreak started the second week of August.
Twenty-nine people had died as of Oct. 13, and more than 8,920 tested positive, Dr. Haider Ali, who is in charge of the dengue unit at the Swat District Health Department, told UPI Next, The district’s health officer, Dr. Abddul Khaliq, told UPI Next the number of new patients is now decreasing.
Dengue is spread through bites from mosquitoes carrying the virus. Symptoms include headaches, prolonged fever and skin rash, Dr. Wisal Khan of the Dengue Unit at Saidu Group Teaching Hospital, said.
Khaliq said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government had declared a dengue emergency and called in medical teams from adjacent districts to curb the virus. He said that in addition to existing facilities at the hospital, the district government had set up a temporary 100-bed dengue ward in a new building at the hospital, which he said was put into operation before it was completely functional because of the emergency.
He also said the outpatient department, usually open for 10 hours a day, is now operating 12 hours a day.
"We are examining about a thousand dengue patients daily" at the department, Khan said.
Ali said previously that "more than 90 percent of the hospitalized patients had recovered from the virus, while 693 are still under treatment."
Furthermore, healthcare workers from the National Program for Family Planning and Primary Health Care report 3,052 dengue patients were getting treatment in their homes and were in “stable condition," he added.
"My sister, Taj Bibi, 16, died of the plague, though the rest of my family, my mother and three other siblings, healed from the disease," Asmat Ullah, 25, told UPI Next by phone.
"The hospital did not have enough capacity to deal with the outbreak and patients were asked to rent a bed that was installed on the veranda.”
Ali said the situation was improving.
"The average number of new patients drops from 300 to 135 daily as the temperature drops," Ali said, adding that 16 to 37 degrees Celsius, or 60 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit, "is the ideal temperature for the virus survival." Current temperatures range from about 80 to about 90 degrees.
However, Khan believes the emergency "will remain until the end of October, as patients are coming for the follow-up checkup."
"Sunrise and sunset are the likely peak hours for dengue mosquitoes' biting activities. That's why the government decided to change the schools’ opening time from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.," Muhammad Saleem, a high school teacher in Mingora, said.
He said about 20 percent to 25 percent of the school's 600 students were not coming to school because of dengue infection complaints.
"Three of our teachers are cured from the disease, and two are still under treatment. That disturbed the education process in our school," he added.
Ali called fresh water pools, tires, water tanks and tree trunks ideal locations for mosquito breeding.
"The areas that are facing a shortage of drinking water are highly affected by the dengue virus" because the vessels they store water in are uncovered, Dr. Asad Ullah, a World Health Organization representative in Swat, said.
He added that fumigation had not been effective in eradicating the mosquito larvae and pupae from the area.
"People and government need a joint venture to end the potential breeding spots in the community," Ullah said.
He said district officials had already identified potential breeding spots for dengue mosquitoes and, "the inspection team will revisit them, to eradicate the larva and protect the community from the virus forever."
"In the last 50 years, incidence [of dengue fever] has increased thirty-fold," WHO said on its website,
"An estimated 2.5 billion people live in over 100 endemic countries and areas where dengue viruses can be transmitted. Up to 50 million infections occur annually with 500,000 cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever and 22,000 deaths mainly among children."
Ali said the disease was probably transferred into the valley from Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
Ullah told UPI Next the virus had been transmitted into Punjab province from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia via secondhand tires. Officials think the disease was brought to Swat in tires as well.
"The numbers of dengue patients have dramatically decreased in Punjab province this year because through legislation they sanctioned the import of used tires in the province," Ullah told UPI Next. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government could protect the region from dengue virus through steps such as instituting a mass awareness campaign, he added.
Khaliq said the district administration had recommended legislation, including a recommendation of penalties for those whose premises are found to contain the dengue-related larvae.