Dengue outbreak grips Marshall Islands

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MAJURO — Two Marshall Islanders died from dengue fever this week at Majuro hospital emphasizing the severity of the outbreak now in its eighth month.

An elementary-aged girl from Arno, a remote atoll about 15 miles from the capital Majuro, and a 67-year-old woman in Majuro are the third victims to die since the outbreak started last July on Ebeye Island.

The number of confirmed and suspected cases has risen to over 2,500. But until this week, there had been no deaths since a six-year-old girl died in early September as the outbreak got started in Majuro. A 10-year-old girl became ill with dengue on Arno Atoll last week and was brought by boat to Majuro February 3 as an emergency case. She died at Majuro hospital on Wednesday.

Thursday night, a Marshallese woman who was suffering from end-stage kidney problems and contracted dengue died at Majuro hospital. Health officials said she died from renal failure but dengue contributed to her death.

They bring the death toll from dengue to three since the outbreak started on Ebeye last July.

“This is why dengue is so dangerous here and why we are worried about the new coronavirus,” said Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal Friday. He said many adults in the country suffer from a range of chronic diseases, especially diabetes, which undermine immune system response to other illnesses.

Majuro hospital, pictured, has been overflowing with patients suffering from dengue fever for the past two months.  Marshall Islands Journal photo

A total of 2,456 cases of dengue — nearly half of them laboratory confirmed — have been recorded by the Ministry of Health as of February 2. The vast majority, 2,111, have been seen in Majuro. In addition to Majuro and Ebeye, seven outer islands have had people suffering from dengue infection.

The number of cases has continued spiraling upward. Ministry of Health data shows that in 2019, dengue fever cases peaked at 20 per day in mid-November and then declined to an average of 10 cases daily into December — leading authorities to think that the outbreak was diminishing. But by Christmas, the Majuro count was rising.

Since January 1, Majuro has recorded 719 cases — an average of 21 cases daily seen at Majuro hospital. Monday and Tuesday this week, however, numbers skyrocketed with 68 cases recorded in two days.

As the dengue numbers have continued to increase, the Ministry of Health has teamed up with the Environmental Protection to push community-level dengue fever prevention.

The EPA last week issued violation citations to six local residents and one government agency for illegal dumpsites that must be closed based on being hazardous to the public and being potential mosquito breeding zones.

The clampdown on private garbage landfill dumps is being done in coordination with the Ministry of Health in an effort to remove mosquito breeding sites that contribute to the ongoing dengue outbreak that has affected over 2,000 Majuro residents.

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