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Dengue fever epidemic in the Solomon Islands

25 April 2013

There has been a large increase in cases of dengue fever in the Solomon Islands since they were struck by an earthquake and tsunami in early February 2013. Honiara, the capital of the islands, has recorded 89% of the 3,189 suspected and confirmed cases of dengue fever since January 2013. Seven out of the nine provinces have recorded dengue fever cases including: Guadalcanal, Western Province, Malaita, Lata, Isabel, Choiseul and Central Province. Scores of patients have been hospitalised and, to date, 4 people have died from the disease.

Solomon Islands

Map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

The ongoing rainy season has encouraged more breeding sites of the Aedes mosquito which transmits dengue fever and the authorities have struggled to contain the spread of the diseases. The government of the Solomon Islands invited medical teams from Australia and New Zealand to support their efforts to halt the disease spread. These additional members of staff have been working at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara and in provincial hospitals as well as providing assessment, evaluation and education skills.

Dengue exists in many parts of the world: 2.5 billion people live in areas where dengue is transmitted, mainly in South East Asia, the Pacific islands, Latin America, the Caribbean islands and now also in Africa and the Middle East. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are 50-100 million dengue infections worldwide each year. One of the issues associated with dengue fever is that many people travel to these countries for holidays or for work and fall ill on return to their homes in Western Europe and North America.

What is dengue fever?

Dengue is a viral disease and it is transmitted through the bite of an Aedes aegypti mosquito. This mosquito lives very close to people in built-up areas and thrives in stagnant water.

Symptoms include sudden onset of high fever which can last from 3-7 days, severe headache, muscle and joint pain, eye pain. It is commonly known as "break bone fever". Nausea and vomiting can also occur. In 1-2% of dengue cases, the illness can progress into a more severe condition called Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever (DHF) which is rare in travellers. Severe haemorrhaging can occur resulting in organ failure and death. There is no preventative vaccine.

There is a general consensus that those who have had a previous attack of dengue fever may experience more severe symptoms on subsequent occasions, so should take particular care to avoid being bitten.

Why is dengue fever on the rise throughout the world?

The disease has spread as a result of rapid urbanisation, especially where a lack of clean water and sanitation are a problem. Some experts think that climate change is also contributing to the rapid spread of dengue fever. Small pools of water are common which have enabled the mosquito to reproduce quickly and in great numbers.

Advice for those travelling to or working in the areas affected:

·    Ensure you get rid of all standing water in and around your home and work location. Water can collect in discarded tyres, containers, tins and buckets.
·    Avoid being in overcrowded situations
·    Follow bite prevention measures. These include using effective repellents (dengue carrying mosquitoes are usually day-biting), wearing long-sleeved tops, screening windows, using air conditioning if available and sleeping under mosquito nets.
·    Seek medical attention quickly if you suspect you have contracted dengue fever. Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
·    A full recovery from dengue fever may take weeks during which your energy levels will be significantly reduced. Allow yourself plenty of time to recover fully.

For further advice please click on the related information topics on the right hand panel of this screen.

Sources:

Relief Web, Australia Broadcasting Corporation, International Federation of the Red Cross

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