PETALING JAYA: Many who are already suffering from the effects of the haze will now have to beware of a dengue fever epidemic in coming months.
A huge spike in such cases is expected following the “most intense El Nino phenomenon emerging in the Pacific in almost 20 years”.
The irregular hot and dry weather is already contributing to the choking haze affecting the country and others in the region as forest fires burn out of control in Indonesia.
An international research team has found that El Nino’s elevated temperatures could create an ideal situation for large-scale dengue epidemics to spread across a wide region.
The study covered Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines.
It is feared that the epidemic could overburden healthcare systems in affected countries if it occurred unexpectedly, the study said.
Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit, a research consultant with Universiti Malaya, said the full impact of El Nino would be felt in the coming year and with that, a huge spike in dengue cases.
“As it is, the number of cases in some states has already doubled,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday, adding that Malaysia needs to be ready for a worst-case scenario.
“Being able to predict and prepare for epidemics will mean more effective disease surveillance and control efforts.”
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said efforts to fight dengue had already been stepped up, long before the El Nino.
He said dengue cases tended to spike at the start and end of each year, although last year, there was also an upsurge in the middle.
World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Arbovirus Reference and Research director Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said many variables were involved in the increase of dengue cases.
He said the cases had been increasing steadily between 2013 and now, regardless of the El Nino factor.
Universiti Malaya released the results of the study to the press.
The researchers analysed 18 years of dengue surveillance reports, involving a total of 3.5 million cases in 273 provinces, in eight countries in South-East Asia.
They were able to see patterns in dengue transmission across the entire region.
It was found that in 1997 and 1998, dengue transmission was very high, matching high temperatures caused by El Nino that saw mosquitoes reproduce faster and spread the dengue virus more efficiently.
Also, travelling waves of large epidemics were found to emerge from west Thailand, central Laos and the southern Philippines, according to the study.