MANILA   -     The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region urged countries in the region on Tuesday to be more vigilant and step up efforts to stop the spread of dengue cases as the rainy season approaches.

Several Asian countries are experiencing unusually high numbers of dengue cases for this time of year, the UN health agency said. “With the rainy season approaching, WHO is calling for action to minimize illness and deaths from dengue,” WHO said.

Dengue is one of the fastest-spreading mosquito-borne diseases. Worldwide, WHO said the incidence of dengue has increased 30-fold over the past 50 years. Dengue is a major public health concern as it can develop into a potentially fatal form called “severe dengue,” WHO warned.

Of an estimated 2.5 billion people at risk for dengue globally, WHO said about 70 percent live in the Asia Pacific region. Climate conditions, unclean environments, unplanned urban settlements and rapid urbanization can lead to increased mosquito breeding, especially in urban and semi-urban areas.

Several countries in the WHO Western Pacific Region such as Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam have observed early increases in the number of dengue cases reported so far this year.

“The increased number of cases is of concern, but even more worrying is the increase in the rate of people dying from dengue, especially children,” WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Takeshi Kasai said.

“This is a signal that we need to work with countries to strengthen care as well as prevention,” Kasai added. Kasai said health workers in dengue-endemic areas “must be able to recognize the symptoms of dengue and the warning signs of severe dengue, do diagnostic tests and provide life-saving care.”

“Also, families need to know what symptoms to look for and where to get early medical attention. This is especially urgent with the rainy season coming to many parts of Asia,” he added.

In Cambodia, WHO said there has been an upward trend in suspected dengue cases recorded since the beginning of 2019. “More than 1,300 suspected cases were reported in week 21 alone - a level which is higher than expected for this time of the year,” WHO said.

In Laos, WHO said suspected dengue case numbers are higher than the same period during the previous five years. So far in 2019, as of week 21, WHO said a total of 4,216 suspected cases including 14 deaths have been reported.