Mon, 24 Feb 2003

`Chikungunya' panic takes root in rain-prone regions

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

After affecting hundreds of people in West and Central Java provinces, the chikungunya epidemic has now spread to other regions in the country, causing widespread panic in some areas.

In Jember, East Java, where only a few hundred people have actually contracted the disease, many others have been rushing to local hospitals fearing that they too had been infected.

A medical official in Jember, Susilo Wardani, said that people in some areas had been coming to community health centers and physicians to seek treatment for chikungunya, when in fact they were suffering only from flus or mild fevers.

The official, however, said that the most appropriate step was to immediately consult a healthcare worker so as to prevent the spread of the disease.

Chikungunya, a viral fever carried by the Aedes albopictus mosquito, is actually not fatal, and a strong and well-nourished person should be able to weather it.

Health officials in Jember have told people in the affected areas to take preventive measures against the recurrence of the fever. People were told to drain or cover water receptacles, and to fill in waterlogged holes that could be used by the mosquito to breed.

Separately, West Nusa Tenggara Governor Harun Al Rasyid slammed the local media for exaggerating the spread of chikungunya in the province.

He remarked that the findings of a health team set up right after the disease was first discovered there had revealed that the effects of the disease were not as severe as the media had reported.

The governor remarked that in a number of locations, patients had been left without care due to a shortage of medicine, not on account of the negligence of health workers.

In Bandung, West Java, where chikungunya struck for the first time, people are now bracing themselves for further outbreaks of another mosquito-borne disease, dengue fever.

Since last December, 250 people have come down with the fever in the province's capital.

Health workers in the province have completed an investigation to identify the last outbreak of dengue fever there.

One health official said that it was now the time of year for dengue fever to emerge again after having completed its five year cycle.

In a bid to prevent outbreaks of dengue fever, health agencies in the province have started spraying insecticide to interrupt the life cycle of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the disease.