Small Bite, Big Threat: Dengue fever survivor wants end to disease

ONE small mosquito bite was all it took for Samantha Chivers to fall violently ill with dengue fever.

The Baulkham Hills resident, 28, unexpectedly caught the disease when carrying out social development work in Thailand in 2009 and remembers the chilling sweats and excruciating headaches.

“You get really itchy rashes, agonising joint pain, it can get horribly sore behind the back of your eyes, and it feels like your head weighs over 100 kilograms,” Samantha said.

Dengue is spread via the Aedes tiger mosquito, distinguishable by its black and white striped legs. It is a vector-borne disease (spread by mosquitoes called vectors) which can cause more than a million deaths each year.

Alarmingly, there are no vaccines to treat dengue. Palliative care, plenty of water and bed rest, is the only effective cure for the disease.

“I was bed-ridden for a week, sick for over a month, and admitted to hospital on my 23rd birthday,” Sam added.

Luckily for Samantha she did not develop dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can kill up to 12,000 people each year. The World Health Organisation claims that 40 per cent of the world’s population is at risk from the disease and cases around the world have doubled in recent years.

“Dengue fever is much Australia’s problem as it is for people living in South-East Asia or the Asia-Pacific. The tiger mosquito also lives in Northern Queensland so we can get periodic outbreaks of the disease,” Samantha added.

World Health Day is on Monday, April 7 and WHO is drawing attention to a group of diseases that are spread by insects and other vectors, the heavy health and economic burdens they impose, and what needs to be done to reduce these burdens. The theme for this year is ‘Small bite, big threat’.

Sam also works for RESULTS International (Australia), a grassroots organisation that deals closely with parliamentarians and their constituents to generate the public and political will to end extreme poverty.

Samantha also has a Master’s degree in Public Health and is using her first-hand experiences to advocate for better evidence-based solutions to major global health problems.

She met her Federal Member for Mitchell, Mr Alex Hawke, in Canberra last month to discuss major health issues, which included vaccinations and childhood malnutrition, currently facing Australia’s neighbouring regions.

“I will be calling Mr Hawk on World Health Day to speak to him about the dangers of dengue fever and the importance of investing more in the development and distribution of new dengue vaccines.

“There are several dengue vaccines currently in development but none are ready for human-use,” Samantha mentioned.

Last week, the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness recommended that Australia increase its investment in its Medical Research Strategy to $50 million, which includes the development of new vaccines.

“Countries and their developmental partners need to do much more to end vector-borne diseases once and for all,” Samantha added.




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