Dengue Outbreak in Bangladesh Claims Over 1,000 Lives as Climate Crisis Fuels Spread


In what is now the most severe dengue outbreak ever recorded in Bangladesh, official data reveals that over 1,000 lives have been claimed by the mosquito-borne disease. Alarming statistics from the Bangladesh Directorate General of Health Services, released on Monday, indicate that since January, infections have surged to over 208,000, resulting in 1,017 fatalities, including over 100 children.

While dengue fever has long been endemic in South Asia, typically peaking during the monsoon season between July and September, this year saw an early onset of cases, starting in late April. Experts attribute this unexpected surge to a prolonged monsoon season, characterized by warmer temperatures and irregular, heavy rainfall, creating optimal breeding conditions for the Aedes mosquito, which carries the dengue virus.

The surge in patients has placed a significant strain on Bangladesh's healthcare system, with hospitals facing shortages of beds and medical staff to adequately care for those affected. Fatalities from this outbreak are nearly four times higher than the previous year, when 281 lives were lost. In September alone, there were more than 79,600 reported cases and 396 fatalities, according to authorities.

There is a growing concern that the outbreak may extend into the cooler months, contrary to the typical pattern. Last year, dengue cases peaked in October, with the majority of deaths recorded in November.

Dengue, often referred to as breakbone fever, is a viral infection that manifests with symptoms resembling the flu, including severe headaches, muscle and joint pains, fever, and in some cases, internal bleeding, potentially leading to death. The virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, and currently, there exists no specific treatment for the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that dengue is endemic in over 100 countries, with an annual incidence of 100 million to 400 million cases worldwide. Historically, outbreaks were predominantly confined to densely-populated urban centers, such as the capital city of Dhaka, home to over 20 million residents. However, this year, infections have rapidly spread to every district, encompassing both urban and rural areas.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced in a recent news briefing that the agency is actively supporting the Bangladeshi government and authorities to enhance various aspects of outbreak management, including surveillance, laboratory capacity, clinical care, vector control, risk communication, and community engagement.

Public health experts within Bangladesh are advocating for greater emphasis on dengue prevention measures, including early detection and improved access to healthcare services. Repeat dengue infections can lead to more severe and potentially fatal outcomes.

This call to action is not limited to Bangladesh alone. As global temperatures rise due to increased fossil fuel consumption, the occurrence of outbreaks is anticipated to become more widespread across different regions of the world. Over the past two decades, WHO reports an eight-fold increase in global dengue cases.

As the climate crisis escalates, mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever are expected to extend their reach and have an even greater impact on human health. This year, South America, particularly Peru, has grappled with its most severe dengue outbreak on record. Meanwhile, in Asia, nations such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia have reported a surge in cases. Similarly, sub-Saharan African countries like Chad have also witnessed outbreaks.

WHO's Alert and Response Director, Abdi Mahamud, characterizes these outbreaks as a "canary in the coalmine of the climate crisis," noting that "more and more countries" are grappling with the "heavy burden of these diseases."