Dengue Back With a Vengeance

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

I was enjoying a cup of hot coffee one morning last month when the doorbell rang. It rang a few times arousing me from my caffeine-induced stupor. I had just returned from a rather strenuous morning workout, cycling around my taman for a good hour and a half. And at this age and time, an hour plus on a mountain bicycle is no ride in the park. It can take plenty out of you.

I had never expected anyone so early, as it was barely 8 in the morning. But past experience had shown that repeated ringing of the doorbell is an indication that something is amiss – a neighbour could be in trouble or perhaps someone is up to no good. Fortunately, it was none of that.

Upon opening the door I was greeted by two polite-looking gentlemen in grey jackets with the words “Kementerian Kesihatan” emblazoned above their breast-pockets. Having identified themselves as inspectors from the Kinta District Health Department, they asked whether I had any ornamental plants in my house. While one was talking, the other had a closer look at my potted plants. I was certain he was checking for signs of stagnant water which could be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

”Uncle, your neighbour’s daughter two doors away has contracted dengue,” he said while pointing in the direction of the house. “We’re here to ensure that the disease is contained. We’ll be back to fog this area later.”

I was aware of this threat having read messages sent to me by friends and those on my whatsapp groups. Dengue is a recurring problem in and around Ipoh. It has been around for years increasing in intensity over the years despite efforts at combating the scourge.

This media statement by Dr Venugopalan, Deputy Director of the Perak Health Department report is not too encouraging.

“The cumulative number of those infected with dengue from January 1 to February 11 is 823 compared to 728 for the same period last year. There’s an increase of 95 cases or 13 per cent. From February 5 to 11 some 150 cases were reported compared to 141 cases in the preceding week. This is an increase of nine cases or 6.4 percent”.

The department, said Dr Venugopalan, had identified 60 dengue-prone areas in the state, of which nine are classified as dengue hotspots. Of the number, eight are in Kinta District and the remaining ones in the Larut, Matang and Selama District.

Some 9615 premises had been inspected out of which 182 are being identified as dengue-positive. Meaning, the prevalence of the disease is imminent.

I hope my morning encounter with the two officers from the Kinta Health Department is not an indication that my taman is one of the eight dengue hotspots in Kinta District. God forbid.

My neighbours and I have kept our compounds relatively clean and rubbish-free except for the pesky ah long (loan sharks) whose henchmen find it fit to leave their oversized “calling cards” on lampposts, road signage and fences.

The council-appointed contractor trims the grass on the field in front of our houses once every fortnight. Although his overall performance is not considered pukka at least our designated green lung, unlike others, is trouble-free and a source of pride to residents in the area.

Dengue is defined as “an acute infectious disease caused by virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. It is characterised by headache, severe joint pain and rashes”.

The disease has become a global problem since the Second World War and is common in 110 countries, especially in the tropics. Some 50 to 528 million people are being infected and approximately 10,000 to 20,000 succumb to it yearly.  The earliest reported outbreak was in 1779. It came into the public domain only in the early 20th Century.

Mosquito larvae breed in water thus ridding stagnant water is the surest way of combating the disease. Keeping our compounds and surroundings clean is therefore the mantra. But to what extent are we prepared to go if venturing out of our houses is a chore for many? I say this with much conviction, as I find the attitude of one particular neighbour rather odd. She likes to litter in front of her gates and doesn’t give a damn what people say.

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