Southeast Asia is scrambling to combat a deadly outbreak of dengue fever, the tropical illness transmitted by mosquitoes, which has hit parts of the region especially hard.
Health experts suspect that an unusually early rainy season that brought mosquitoes out in April, months ahead of what is expected, contributed to the seriousness of the dengue challenge. Also, above-average temperatures that many experts blame on global warming encouraged early mosquito breeding. Meanwhile, dengue is thought to be mutating as a result of immunity that has built up in the region. And as the virus is spread by travelers, more countries are expected to be affected.
The story in Southeast Asia is varied. Thailand, Laos and Singapore have seen sharp increases in infections compared with last year. Meanwhile, the Philippines, which has the largest number of deaths, at 306 so far, nevertheless has made some inroads as bringing numbers down from the 499 deaths in the year-earlier period, which health officials there attribute to education campaigns and antimosquito spraying.
The rise in death tolls in Thailand and neighboring Laos is of concern to health experts. Already 94 have died in Thailand, tripling the 32 who died there in the first seven months of last year. Meanwhile, in Laos, 76 have died, up from only three reported in the first six months of last year.
Meanwhile, financial center Singapore is facing its worst dengue outbreak ever. The city-state on Tuesday reported its fifth death this year but said weekly counts—which reached a record of 842 cases in the week ended June 22—have declined as the government intensified efforts to curb the outbreak.
So far the situation looks milder than last year in Vietnam and Cambodia, while Indonesia and Myanmar didn't have data on dengue cases and deaths beyond March.
In other parts of Asia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea say they have seen increases in dengue, largely because of people returning from visits in Southeast Asia. China reports a jump in dengue, mostly because of a spike in the disease in July in Zhongshan, a city in southern Guangdong province.
India reported 3,952 cases in the year's first quarter, more than double the 1,579 from the year-earlier quarter, although the number of deaths came down to seven from 12 in 2012. Infections in Taiwan and Australia are down slightly.
Aside from causing individual suffering, dengue also strains health services and results in economic losses.