Dengue Fever Still a Danger Despite Drop in Mortality Rate

January 13, 2005
By Saing Soenthrith

With the doctor's wife behind the wheel of the car and my 15-month-old son lying limply on my own wife's lap, we sped down Russian Confederation Boulevard to the National Pediatrics Hospital, weaving our way through the Phnom

My wife sobbed against my shoulder, while I stuck my other arm out the car window, holding up a serum pack that dripped clear fluid through a tube embedded into my son's tiny arm.

For days, our son Saing Soseth (whom we nicknamed Clin) had been feverish and irritable, bed-bound at a private neighborhood clinic, where the doctor suspected dengue.

But on this morning, Clin's breath came unsteadily, his diarrhea seemed unstoppable and his body drained of color, leaving his skin waxy. Most distressingly, Clin did not move or make any noise.

Ill-equipped to treat him at the clinic, the doctor's wife drove us to the emergency wing of the state-run hospital.

There, a team of medical staff swarmed around him and at a dizzying pace, they set to work. One stuck an oxygen tube into Clin's nose. Another punctured his arm with another intravenous tube.

Clin, though unconscious, began vomiting and his body shuddered violently. A doctor used a suction machine to clear his mouth. They took blood samples from his chubby thighs and extracted a sample of spinal fluid from the base of his back to rule out meningitis. Helpless, my wife and I could only look on.

"Calm down, calm down," the doctors told us, but their words could not soothe our fears.

Three nerve-wracking hours later, Dr Ung Sophal emerged to tell us our son was out of danger, and the blood tests confirmed he indeed had dengue fever.
I have never been so happy to hear my son's pained wail.

According to the National Pediatric Hospital data, dengue is among the most commonly treated ailments at the hospital, next to diarrhea and respiratory disease.
"If the children's parents are late to take them to the hospital...and the patients go into shock, it is hard to treat them," Ung Sophal said.

Treatment usually consists of keeping the patient hydrated and lowering his or her fever. There is no drug to cure the disease.

Helped by radio and television campaigns, more parents are now aware of dengue than ever before, Ung Sophal said. They take better precautions to ward off mosquitoes and are quick to seek treatment when their children fall ill.

The mortality rate for children who contract dengue has fallen to about 0.8 percent in 2004, from about 10 percent in the late 1990s, he said.

After five days in the hospital, Clin was released, weak and weary, but ready to go home. A month later, he is still less energetic than he used to be. He walks with a little less confidence and speaks less frequently, although his appetite seems to be growing.

My wife and I had always insisted that our three children sleep under mosquito nets at night.

Now, we keep a watchful eye out for mosquitoes in the mornings, too.