A chickenpox outbreak in Cox's Bazar Rohingya camps has raised a public health concern in the region, officials say.
The number of patients with chicken pox, also known as varicella, reported last week was 5,376, which is more than double the number reported the week before, according to a World Health Organisation report published on Thursday.
Chickenpox cases had earlier been reported on several occasions, but more and more cases kept coming since the second week of January. As many as 10,240 cases were reported between January 2018 and January 31 this year. Of them, 9,972 cases were reported last month.
The highly contagious airborne disease is caused by an initial infection of varicella zoster virus, which results in skin rash that forms small, itchy blisters and eventually scab over.
“Yes, there is a chickenpox outbreak. It affects the children the most. The danger is that the refugee camps are overcrowded, which is perfect for fast spreading of the disease,” said Abdus Salam, deputy director at the divisional office of the Directorate General of Health Services in Chattogram.
The outbreak may become a public health emergency if not contained, he warned.
He said one might suffer from a fever, pain and itching if infected by the germ. No medication is needed for this disease and it is cured in 15 days. But the infected ones must be isolated.
Paracetamol can help if one suffers from fever due to the disease, he said, adding that the disease was not fatal, but the sufferings and the cost of treatment are significant.
“In the first seven days, the rashes spread over the body and in the next seven days they dry down,” Salam said.
The authorities had begun to address the outbreak, he said.
“We need to ensure that the affected children do not go outside,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
The health ministry and the Institute of Epidemiology, Diseases Control and Research have requested the health partners to report all varicella cases on a daily basis.
An inter-agency committee led by the civil surgeon of Cox's Bazar has been formed to finalise the varicella case management guideline for the refugee population.
“The WHO and the health sector are working in collaboration with community health working groups, education sector and risk communication group for multi-prong responses,” the WHO report said.
Some one million Rohingyas are living in the camps in Cox's Bazar. Of them, around 750,000 fled the brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state since August 2017. Others had earlier fled the waves of violence in Myanmar since 1980s.
The congested shanties and crowded living are conducive to rapid spread of air and waterborne diseases like acute respiratory infection, diarrhoea, diphtheria and chickenpox.
The WHO report says varicella, acute watery diarrhoea and unexplained fever were the diseases with the highest proportional morbidity in the last week of January.
Thirteen new suspected diphtheria patients were reported last week, bringing the total cases of diphtheria to 8,403, which include 202 cases from Bangladeshi community near the Rohingya camps.
The total number of deaths reported due to diphtheria has so far been 45. No death has been reported from the host community, according to the WHO report.