ALTHOUGH more dengue cases are being diagnosed, the good news is that only a small number of people have come down with a more severe form of the disease.
As of Monday, 9,429 people had fallen victim to the dengue virus. But only 38, or 0.4 per cent, of them developed the more serious dengue haemorrhagic fever.
This is a marked decline from the 2005 dengue outbreak, which recorded almost 14,000 infections, 2.8 per cent of which were dengue haemorrhagic fever cases.
The drop in the number of more serious cases is due to improvements in patient care and greater awareness about the disease among patients, the dengue advisory committee chairman, Professor Ng Han Seong, said at a press conference yesterday.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan suggested that it could also be due to more dengue cases being diagnosed, or that perhaps the virus had become less virulent.
Minister of State for Health Amy Khor added that less than 30 per cent of dengue patients require hospitalisation, and the majority can be treated in an outpatient setting. But contingency plans are in place should the need for beds arise.
Dr Khor also told reporters that hospitals have been alerted to be careful with suspected or confirmed dengue cases returning to the emergency departments. Such patients will be given higher priority, she said.
Last month, this year's first dengue casualty went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) emergency department, but was given some Panadol and told to see a doctor three days later if he still felt sick.
The 20-year-old returned to TTSH three days later as he felt very sick, and was warded. He died two days later from dengue shock syndrome. Last Sunday, a 60-year-old man became the second dengue fatality this year - also due to dengue shock syndrome.
Dengue is a disease caused by any one of four dengue virus strains - Den-1, Den-2, Den-3, and Den-4 - transmitted by the female Aedes mosquito.
Dengue infections can range from very mild to fatal. The European and American health authorities have estimated that 40 per cent to 80per cent of dengue patients do not suffer any symptoms, said Dr Joanne Tay, deputy director of the Ministry of Health's communicable diseases division.
Some have symptoms that are so mild that they do not require medical treatment; others have dengue fever, and a very small number develop dengue haemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome.
Dengue fever symptoms include high fever, severe headache, pain in the joints and flu-like symptoms. In dengue haemorrhagic fever, victims suffer a fever that lasts from two to seven days. As the fever declines, symptoms such as persistent vomiting, severe abdominal pain and breathing difficulties may develop.
In dengue shock syndrome, a person's blood pressure dips too low and causes the organs to shut down. There are no specific drugs for dengue. Rest and hydration are key.