An hour late may already be too late; dengue test kit helps

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - It looks like a home pregnancy test kit, works like one, and in fact, also uses a test strip to indicate the answer to one's anxiety.

But unlike the smile that a "positive" result from a pregnancy test can bring, a "positive" from this test kit sounds alarm bells.

And warned and alert is what we should all be because of the alarming rise of dengue cases in the Philippines. It was for this reason that the Dengue NS1 Antigen detection kit was developed in 2006 to quickly help determine the presence of dengue in its early stages.

Sadly, this is one device that a lot of hospitals take for granted. Had he known of it, singer Bryan Termulo would have bought the device for his 24-year-old brother Bren who died last December from complications of dengue, only a day after complaining of a slight fever.

"I learned that dengue is rarely fatal-only about a 1 percent death rate-but what hurt most was that my brother was included in that very small group. My family learned the hard way that one cannot just dismiss a fever, especially these days when dengue infection is rampant," said Termulo.

Small price to pay

The 21-year-old Termulo has resolved to be the face behind a campaign to convince Filipino families to immediately avail of the Dengue NS1 Antigen detection kit when a household member develops a fever. The kit only needs 15 minutes to accurately determine if a patient has dengue.

"Yes, the single-use kit costs 1,000 pesos or even 2,000 pesos in some hospitals but that is a small price to pay if one wants to avoid losing a family member to a disease that is very treatable if detected early," explained Termulo, a World Championships of Performing Arts silver and bronze medalist and "Pinoy Pop Superstar" finalist.

The Dengue NS1 Antigen detection kit-also called the rapid test kit-requires only a qualified medical technician to take a blood sample from the patient. The kit includes an NS1 strip, which works like the ones used on pregnancy tests: Two strips mean the blood is positive for dengue, and one strip that it's negative.

"Early detection is the key. The hospital had no idea that my brother already had dengue and treated him for tonsillitis. It was only several hours later after my brother had contracted septicemia (the presence of disease-causing microorganisms in the bloodstream) that the hospital was able to explain the reason behind his fever-like symptoms. By then it was already too late," Termulo said.

Early diagnosis critical

There is no specific treatment for dengue and the vaccine to prevent it will be available only in 2014, but Lyndon Lee Suy, program manager of the Department of Health's Emerging and Reemerging Infectious Diseases section, believes that early diagnosis is critical to fighting the disease.

"If positive for dengue, the fever could be treated by anti-pyretics like paracetamol, while pain in the bone may be treated with analgesics or pain-killing tablets. Dehydration is also a concern so patients are usually advised to drink plenty of fluids," explained Lee Suy.

If the dengue fever develops into its more serious forms of dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome, hospitalization is a must as more supportive treatment like intravenous fluid replacement is required to prevent shock-a state in which not enough blood and oxygen reach important organs like the brain and kidneys.

"Don't wait for the platelet count to go down. It's better to overreact to a simple fever so that you can deal with dengue while in its early stage. An hour late may be already dangerous when it comes to dengue," Termulo warned.

Common test not sufficient

According to Rex Tiri, president of Lifeline Diagnostics Supplies Inc., which distributes the dengue test kit, the more common test employed by hospitals is based on the detection of specific dengue virus antibodies.

But this kind of test relies on antibodies that are only produced by the patient several days after the first clinical signs appear-four to six days for a primary infection-which is not sufficient for early screening, he said.

Other hospitals use similar but cheaper rapid tests but they are not as sensitive as the Dengue NS1 Antigen detection kit that has been shown to be 97.3-percent effective (against 68.9 percent and 88.7 percent of other kinds of tests).

The Dengue NS1 Antigen detection kit also provides 100-percent specificity as it can detect all the four strains of the dengue virus as well as avoid confusing dengue with other diseases belonging to the same taxonomic group or family (Flaviviridae) like the one that causes yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis or West Nile encephalitis.

According to Lifeline product specialist Joey Flores, all anyone would need to be able to buy the rapid test kit is to ask a doctor to write a prescription for it.

And then 15 minutes is all it takes for a qualified medical technician to administer the test.

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