Thailand doctors call for more funds to find cure for dengue

THE GOVERNMENT should fund research and human-resource development to combat dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), an expert told a recent seminar.

"Efforts in this area will need from Bt200 million (S$7.9 million) to Bt300 million [to be effective]," said Prof Dr Sukathida Ubol.

This year, DHF has already infected over 100,000 people and caused more than 100 deaths in Thailand. To date, no vaccine can counter the disease and available medicines can only help patients based on palliative care [to relieve the symptoms].

Speaking at the seminar at Mahidol University's Faculty of Science, Sukathida said funding would encourage the development of a vaccine and treatment for DHF.

She said the Thailand Research Fund and the National Vaccine Institute have supported a project to develop nasal-spray vaccines to protect against type-three-DHF, which is the hardest to cure.

"We are developing the vaccine as a nasal-spray, the easiest form to use with children," said Sukathida, who teaches microbiology at the Mahidol University and has taken part in the project.

Sukathida said people exposed to dengue for a second time with a different genus would face infections 15 to 80 times more severe than normal dengue.

She said 0.2 to 2 per cent of mosquitoes in Thailand carried the dengue virus, which can be transferred to their offspring by reproduction.

She said the main symptom in severe dengue was a decrease in the immune system, where white blood cell numbers could fall by 100 to 1,000 times, following a rise in the number of viruses. The virus harms blood platelets and blood vessels and could result in bleeding or even shock to the patient.

Sukathida also expressed concern about blood donations in Thailand, which are often not tested for dengue. Infected people could unknowingly donate dengue-tainted blood.

As Thailand doesn't have any anti-virals for DHF treatment and people tend to know they're ill only a short time after infection, doctors only have a couple of days to cure them, which is not enough. The best solution, said Sukathida, would be an injected vaccine to create immunity.

The possibility of an outbreak became a big issue after well-known actor Tridsadee "Por" Sahawong was admitted to a hospital with a critical case of dengue fever.

Dr Arunee Thitithanyanont, an expert on the immune system and blood diseases, said blood platelet counts in infected people fall, causing them to bleed easily.

If they take painkiller pills, they could damage their stomachs, leading to more bleeding or shock.

The symptoms are high fever for two to three days, and pain in the eye sockets, bones and muscles. She urged people with those symptoms to immediately see a doctor.