China Battles Worst Dengue Fever Outbreak in 20 Years


Southern China is in the midst of an outbreak of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that affects tropical regions. China’s health agency called the situation “severe” and said the outbreak was the worst in 20 years.

Xinhua reports that over 23,000 cases of dengue fever have been reported in China’s Guangdong province. Over 1,000 new cases were identified on each of the past three days, with 1,661 new cases confirmed on Tuesday. So far, Guangdong’s provincial health and family planning commission had reported six deaths, including five in Guangzhou, the capital of the province. While Guangdong has been the worst hit, the provinces of Guangxi, Fujian, and Hunan are also reporting new cases of dengue fever daily.

Earlier, Chinese media warned that the outbreak might be exacerbated by the week-long holiday that follows China’s October 1 National Day. Many Chinese travel during this “Golden Week,” and locations in southern China are popular tourist destinations for both their warmer climate and their scenic locations. Bearing out these fears, there have been nearly 10,000 new cases reported since September 30, the day before the holiday began. China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) issued a special warning for those traveling in south China to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and to seek medical treatment immediately if symptoms develop.

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The NHFPC blamed this year’s outbreak on unusually hot and wet weather in south China, which has resulted in mosquito populations five times larger than the normal level. The NHFPC launched a campaign against the disease, urging people to clean up stagnant pools of water where mosquitoes breed. Local governments sprayed pesticides and handed out free mosquito repellents and information pamphlets to resident. Still, the health agency cautioned that the outbreak would likely not be stemmed until cold weather sets in and the mosquitoes die off.

From October 6 to 7, NHFPC deputy director Wang Guoqiang led a team to Guangdong to investigate the situation. Speaking to reporters after the trip, Wang said that there were still “blind spots” in Guangdong’s prevention and control of the outbreak. According to Wang, stemming the outbreak will take coordination between local officials at the village and city level, as well as joint efforts between the government and the people.

In other words, the dengue fever outbreak touches on a number of deeper issues for China – how to ensure directives from on high are uniformly implemented at the local level (where resources and capabilities can vary significantly) and how to unite China’s civil society with the government against public health threats.

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