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Deadly Dengue Fever Outbreak in Bangladesh Strains Scarce Resources

A deadly outbreak of dengue fever in Bangladesh is the most severe in the country’s history, the authorities said, with fast-spreading infections from rural areas further straining the already overwhelmed hospital system in the capital, Dhaka.

On Monday, the Bangladeshi authorities said they had recorded 909 dengue-related deaths this year through Sunday, compared with 281 in all of 2022.

“Hundreds of patients are also coming to Dhaka from outside,” said Dr. Khalilur Rahman, a director at the Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and hospital.

He said some hospitals in Dhaka were facing shortages of intravenous fluids used to rehydrate patients with dengue, and pharmacists were increasing their prices as demand for IV treatment rises, adding to the severity of the crisis.

The mosquito-borne viral infection has spread to all 64 districts of the country, according to the World Health Organization. Dengue is common in tropical areas and can cause piercing headaches, nausea, muscle and joint pain, and in some cases death.

Last week, the W.H.O. said a combination of factors, including climate change, had contributed to the rise of dengue cases around the world, with millions of people infected.

The warming planet has worsened weather patterns in South Asia, resulting in monsoon seasons that are wetter and hotter — conditions that create a favorable breeding environment for the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the virus.

The crisis in Bangladesh is worsening every day in a city with a beleaguered infrastructure. Dhaka is densely populated, with many of its 12 million residents living in slums, where sanitation is poor. Clogged drainage systems store copious amounts of standing water, an optimal breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of W.H.O., said last week in a news briefing that cases were starting to decline in Dhaka but increasing in other parts of the country.

“We have trained doctors and deployed experts on the ground. We have also provided supplies to test for dengue and support care for patients,” he said.

Health experts say the fatalities may rise further with more than three months remaining in Bangladesh’s rainy season.

So far, a total of 187,725 people have tested positive this year for dengue infection across the country, which is home to more than 170 million people. Health officials said there are 10,470 patients undergoing treatment for dengue in hospitals.

The infection has also spread to the crowded camps of Rohingya refugees just outside the coastal city of Cox’s Bazar. Last year, the camps saw more than 15,000 cases and at least six deaths.

Dr. Be-Nazir Ahmed, a public health expert, said Bangladesh had been battling dengue infections for more than two decades, but the authorities lack the proper preventive measures.

“The biggest threat is now the dengue has spread all over the country,” he said. “I am afraid that people in rural areas will suffer from dengue a lot more in the future if we can’t contain it now”

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