Dengue situation in coastal town described as alarming

KUCHING: The low-lying coastal town of Sibu in central Sarawak has been breaching the outbreak levels of dengue infection since last year.

The authorities in the state classify the occurrence of more than 30 new dengue cases a week as an "outbreak", and in the second week of this month, hospitals and clinics in Sibu alone recorded 42 cases.

In comparison, the Miri district recorded the second highest number of dengue cases with just five over the same period.

In Kuching, there was only one case reported, according to the Sarawak Health Department's Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC).

Sarawak Assistant Public Health Minister Datuk Dr Jerip Susil described the dengue situation in the Sibu district as alarming.

"We are at the critical stage. We are in high surveillance mode. Contact tracing is being stepped up," he said yesterday.

Between Feb 1 and 14, there were 444 known dengue cases reported in Sarawak.

On Feb 10 alone, 20 new cases were reported with almost all from the Sibu district, according to a detailed report unveiled by Dr Jerip.

At least 11 residents living in Jalan Berjaya in the district were infected with dengue between Dec 21 and Feb 13.

Other areas highlighted included Jalan Oya, Jalan Bintangor, Jalan Wong King Hou and Jalan Emplam.

"The rate of infection in Sibu has been persistently high.

"But if you look at the graphs, they show that there (the number of dengue cases) is slightly more than during the same period last year," Dr Jerip said.

According to CPRC's weekly breakdown, a staggering 67.7 per cent of the total dengue cases in Sarawak was reported in Sibu.

In Bintulu, which is the nearest town to Sibu, only two cases were reported.

Dr Jerip said the authorities had taken preventive measures such as intensifying their fogging exercise.

"One of the biggest challenges in Sibu is to ensure drains can flow and have no stagnant water.

"Sibu, by its nature of being a low-lying town, has this problem. Stagnant drains are a breeding ground for aedes.

"The situation was made worse by the wet weather between December and February," he said.

He called on the public to seek the doctor's advice if they are feeling feverish.

"That is the best way for everyone to help fight the disease. You must inform the medical authorities. Contact tracing is very important at this stage," he added.

Sarawak health department director Dr Zulkifli Jantan said that the infection numbers might have exceeded the outbreak level but the situation was not considered an epidemic yet.

"It is technically an outbreak because it is only in the Sibu district, meaning it is localised. Epidemic is when it is nationwide," he said.

He added that the "normal" level was fewer than 17 cases for Sarawak while "alert" was at more than 22 cases.

He said that the surge of waste during Chinese New Year could contribute to more infections.

Sibu's dengue problem was among topics debated in Sarawak's Legislative Assembly in November last year.