After a year which saw an explosion of Dengue fever infections, Thailand is bracing itself for an even worse 2016 with experts warning that the number of infections may be on par with the 1987 mega-outbreak. Thailand recorded some 140,000 cases of infection last year, with 126 deaths, the highest number since the 170,000 cases of the 1987 crisis.
Thailand's Public Health Ministry is expecting Dengue cases to swell by more than 16 percent this year. The reason for the rise is simple – mosquitoes have more places to breed now that chemical spraying is less effective and population clusters give the disease areas in which to propagate.
For many years in Thailand, Dengue fever was considered a disease that only affected children, but now most new cases reported are young adults. The virus starts with aching joints, a raging fever and a rash. If left untreated, it could lead to organ failure or death.
For decades, Thailand has been on the front line of the fight against the Dengue virus. With the first vaccine already approved in Mexico, the Philippines and Brazil, Thailand is now under pressure to green light this long-term strategy to fight the potentially lethal disease.
"This vaccine [has been] developed for about ten years but the vaccine is not 100 percent protection proof. We know that, but it is one of the tools which can be helpful. In Thailand I think they plan to license this vaccine very soon. And, once we've got the vaccine, I think it can reduce the problems of the Dengue," said Kriengsak Limkittikul, an associate professor with the Faculty of Tropical Medicine of Mahidol University.
For now, Thailand's strategy is to eliminate the breeding opportunities for mosquitoes. However, given the seriousness of the challenge, there are growing fears that the virus could be mutating as a result of the immunity that has built up in the region. Without a preventative vaccine or cure, millions more will continue to suffer at the hands of a virtually invisible predator waiting to strike.