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Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona said dengue is now a "serious concern" after the number of cases rose by 75% from January to August this year, compared to the same period last year.

A total of 54,659 dengue cases were reported nationwide from January 1 to August 14, 2010, much higher than the recorded 31,248 cases in the same period in 2009. There were 429 deaths recorded in the last seven months and almost 80% of the cases recorded belonged to the 1-20 year old age bracket.

Ona said he met with ASEAN ministers of health to discuss the worsening dengue situation in what he calls the "belt of dengue," which includes other Southeast Asian countries like Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

"This is a serious concern. As a matter of fact, nag-agree din po ang mga minister of health na ipagsasama namin ang ating kagalingan sa research para masugpo ang dengue (As a matter of fact, ASEAN ministers of health agreed to combine our resources for research on how to fight dengue)," he said.

He said the Philippines and other countries are continuously looking for new ways of preventing and curing the disease, including efforts to change the genetic makeup of mosquitoes and to develop a vaccination for dengue.

"Specifically I cannot say if it will take us 1 year or 3 years [to develop a vaccine for dengue], but we will have scientific cooperation to pool our resources for research among other ASEAN nations," he said.

"The best effort still is to really clean [the surroundings] and to make sure that there's no stagnant water," he said, adding that stagnant water, whether clean or dirty, can become breeding ground of dengue-carrying mosquitoes.