Tue, 11 Mar 2003

West Java set for worst outbreak of dengue fever

The Jakarta Post, Bandung

An outbreak of dengue fever claimed 19 lives in West Java in the month of January alone, a health official in the provincial capital of Bandung said.

The toll was compiled from 24 regencies and municipalities in West Java, said Fatima Resmiyati, West Java health office environmental bureau head Fatima Resmiyati said.

She said the death toll was almost certainly higher than 19, as her office continued to seek data in the months after January.

"So far we have only registered cases in January and we found that 19 have died," Fatima told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Her office has recorded 417 cases of dengue fever, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Its spread had reached worrying levels, Fatima said, adding that the regencies of Subang, Depok, Indramayu and Cirebon had registered 12 deaths.

She said the last outbreak, following a five-year cycle, occurred in 1998, when dozens died.

Fatima said most of the deaths were the result of people seeking medical treatment too late.

The death toll was highest among the poor, those who were most reluctant to seek medical help, she said, adding that her office planned to provide free treatment for the poor.

Health officials have also warned of an outbreak in Jakarta this year, with 443 cases but no deaths reported so far.

In South Sulawesi dengue fever has already killed 23 and hospitalized 546 others this year.

Besides dengue fever, West Java is facing the similar but non- lethal chikungunya disease, carried by the Aedes albopictus mosquito. Experts said chikungunya followed a 20-year cycle, which explained why most people were unfamiliar with it.

Fatima said the disease had so far affected 400 people in the province. Its characteristic symptoms include pain in the joints or muscles and fever.

"Chikungunya is relatively safe, it doesn't lead to death," she said.

Efforts to fight both diseases is limited to fumigating, which may cause the mosquitoes to become immune to the chemicals.

Health officials urged the public to drain or cover water where both types of mosquitoes breed.

Health Minister Achmad Sujudi has said that his ministry needed Rp 1.6 trillion (around $180 million) to effectively exterminate the Aedes albopictus mosquitoes this year.

The budget would cover 70,000 villages across the country, and also include programs to eradicate other communicable diseases like dengue fever, leprosy, malaria and tuberculosis, officials said.