As heat scorches Dhaka, viral fever cases surge

Two weeks ago, Rakibul Islam had come down with a cold, cough and fever, which his family with three children contracted later.

"All of a sudden I began to sneeze and had a runny nose along with a mild fever. The next day, my temperature shot up to 103 degrees [Fahrenheit]," said Rakibul, a resident of Mirpur DOHS.

“I got a body ache and felt very weak. At first, I thought I had contracted coronavirus or dengue, as my body temperature was high. But I tested negative for both. The doctor said that it was a seasonal fever. The fever has retreated but I still have a cold; and also feel very weak."

Soon afterwards, his wife Habiba Islam and three children started displaying similar symptoms.

Rakibul's wife Habiba said she had a fever and dry, tickling cough. Their two daughters, aged 5 and 12, had a mild fever and suffered from cough and cold. But their 16-year-old son had a high fever.

After testing negative for both COVID-19 and dengue, the family upped their intake of fluids and fruits, as recommended by their physician.

Like the Islam family, many other households in Dhaka have been plagued by seasonal fever.

As the weather became excessively hot, more people are catching fever, coughs and colds, said public health experts.

Arham, a one-and-a-half-month-old child who lives with his family in the neighbourhood of Duip in Mirpur 12, has been suffering from a cold for the past few days. He is having difficulties breastfeeding due to a stuffy nose.

As the parents thought the child would recover on his own, they did not take him to any doctor initially, according to his mother Farzana Yasmin.

When they eventually took the child to a doctor, he was diagnosed with pneumonia, which was caused by prolonged cold.

The doctor then gave her child some injections, said Farzana. Arham's physical condition deteriorated despite taking the injections and he was admitted to Digilab Hospital in Pallabi.

He was transferred to Dhaka Shishu Hospital on Tuesday after his condition worsened further. On Wednesday, doctors decided to move the child into intensive care to provide respiratory support.  As there was no vacant ICU bed at Shishu Hospital, the family began a frantic search in several hospitals before finding one on Thursday, said Farzana.

“He had jaundice after his birth but there was no sign of a cold. When he got a fever, we gave him paracetamol and it subsided. We never realised his condition would worsen so much.”

Farzana, who belongs to a lower-income household, is now worried about paying the hospital bills.

She believes excessive sweating caused the cold for Arham and holds herself responsible for that.  “It’s because of my negligence that he is suffering now. I couldn’t realise my child was so sick. When he stopped taking breast milk and started frothing at the mouth, I rushed him to a doctor.

"Our doctor was very annoyed as we were late in seeking medical care for the child. Now, everything depends on Allah. He can’t breathe without the support of a ventilator.”

At least 80 percent of children undergoing treatment in Dhaka Shishu Hospital are suffering from fever, cough and cold, according to its director Prof Shafi Ahmed.

“Cough and cold lead to viral pneumonia, bronchiolitis or respiratory distress for many children. We admit those who have an acute condition immediately but most of them go back home after a brief stint at the outdoor department,” he said.

Although it is autumn, the residents of Dhaka are desperately hoping for a respite from the scorching heat and humidity. According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, the mercury climbed to 35.9 degrees Celsius in the capital on Thursday.

People are sweating more due to the sweltering heat and that causes fever, said Prof Ahmed. “The weather is quite humid, which is causing more of these diseases."

He advised against taking the children outdoors in the heat and suggested keeping them hydrated with water and other fluids. They should be kept away from those suffering from fever, cough and cold. Also, children should be taken to a doctor in case they have a high fever, he said.

Most of the patients admitted to the paediatric department in Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital are suffering from viral fever, said its Director Khalilur Rahman. “It’s influenza or viral flu that is prevalent now as the summer draws to an end and winter approaches. This is the time when the viral fever spreads.”

“We can prevent all viruses if we follow the health protocols. As children have a lower immune response, they are suffering more from the viral fever,” he said. He suggested consuming protein, fresh vegetables, fruits and lots of water to boost immunity.

Sir Salimullah Medical College Hospital aka Mitford Hospital in Old Dhaka has been experiencing an influx of seasonal flu patients, said its director Kazi Md Rashid Un Nabi.

“More people are showing up for medical tests while exhibiting symptoms like fever, cold and cough. When the COVID-19 infection rate was 10 to 20 percent, at least 120-130 people used to come for a test each day. The highest used to be 200 people per day."

"Though the COVID-19 infection rate dropped to 2 to 3 percent, as many as 130-140 people are still coming for the COVID test every day. It shows that people are suffering from fever.”

“The hot weather at present makes for a good environment for the virus to spread,” he said.

WHAT CAUSES VIRAL FEVER?

The transition in weather causes viral fever and influenza, said medicine specialist ABM Abdullah. He called on people to stay indoors as much as possible and not expose themselves to dust and pollution. Also, outside food should be avoided, he said.

“As it’s a viral disease, if one person in the family contracts it, they should be isolated. It’s not a deadly disease and usually, people recover in a week from the viral fever, cold and cough,” said Dr Abdullah.

Maintaining the health protocols is important for preventing viral fever as well, said IEDCR adviser Dr Mushtuq Husain. “It’s a seasonal fever caused by respiratory and other viruses. People can avoid catching fever if they follow the health rules.”

“We call it a self-limiting virus, which is a communicable virus like the COVID-19. It spreads through the droplets of cough and sneeze. But it’s not as deadly as the COVID. It can be caused by the Influenza virus or respiratory syncytial virus”

Proper rest at home, adherence to health protocols, especially washing hands with soap regularly, will enable people to combat the seasonal disease, he said.

“Wearing a mask helps prevent the disease. Most people suffer from food aversion due to the disease. They must drink more water and other fluids. Cold causes dehydration. When dehydrated, a person is more prone to catching the fever.”

[Written in English by Sabrina Karim Murshed and edited by Turaj Ahmad]