As dengue fever tightens its hold on Pakistan, the National Institute of Health in Islamabad (NIH) dismissed rumors of a new strain as a “hoax.”
However, renowned experts in infectious diseases asserted the presence of four serotypes of the vector-borne disease, stating that “a mixture of dengue serotypes” could be afflicting Pakistani citizens.
The News said that an NIH Islamabad official responded to an inquiry on the advent of new dengue virus variants as the cause of severe diseases by stating that no new dengue virus variant was detected.
Some experts and the Federal Minister for Climate Change, Sherry Reman, have linked the recent dengue outbreak to climate change, stating that unprecedented rains and subsequent flooding have led to a 100 percent increase in dengue cases, particularly in Karachi and other cities of Sindh, where it has rained continuously for over two and a half months.
Prof. Dr. Saeed Khan of the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) in Karachi stated that there were only four dengue virus serotypes in 2013.
“When a man is infected with a specific serotype, he develops antibodies against it. “However, when the same person is infected with a different serotype, he or she becomes very ill because the prior serotypes’ antibodies aid the newly-introduced virus in infecting the individual,” he added.
Prof. Dr. Iqbal Chaudhry of the HEJ Research Institute, University of Karachi, and Dr. Faisal Mehmood of the Aga Khan University both refuted allegations of a new dengue virus type. Dr. Faisal stated that the number of dengue cases in Karachi was steadily increasing, adding that the height of dengue season was yet to arrive, as cases typically peak around October.
Prof Ishtiaq Ahmed, an additional researcher affiliated with the HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry, stated that viruses mutate with time, and dengue is also a highly mutating virus, behind only HIV and influenza. “However, it is too soon to say that a common mutation causes serious illnesses,” he noted.
Commenting on the severe sickness caused by the dengue virus in Karachi and other areas of Sindh this year, he stated:
“I believe our considerably larger population has been infected by one serotype, and now those infected by a second serotype exhibit severe symptoms. With an increase in infection and re-infection rates, there will be a rise in severe dengue cases and, God forbid, fatalities”.
On the other hand, hundreds of new dengue cases were recorded in Sindh, Punjab, Islamabad, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, pushing authorities to adopt preventative steps to restrict the spread of the vector-borne disease.
In the last 24 hours, approximately 388 new dengue cases have been reported in Sindh, including 324 cases in Karachi alone, where two people have died due to complications from dengue fever, according to officials, who have begun converting the Covid-19 high dependency units at significant hospitals into dengue treatment centers.
Intriguingly, only 188 dengue cases were reported in Punjab over the past 24 hours, including 80 from Rawalpindi, 62 from Lahore, and the remainder from other cities, indicating that the disease surveillance system was allegedly not functioning correctly in the province, where hundreds of individuals seek treatment for dengue fever every day.
The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reported 307 new cases of dengue fever in the last 24 hours, including 153 in Peshawar and 73 in Mardan, while five deaths have been attributed to dengue fever in KPK.
According to officials, approximately 179 instances of dengue fever have been recorded from the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), while over 150 cases have been reported from various districts in Balochistan.