Asia might be spared a repeat of the dengue fever epidemic of 1998, when there were 357,000 cases, including 1,470 deaths, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said. 'It [the number of cases] is up again this year, but it is not as bad as 1998,' said Dr Kevin Palmer, an adviser to the WHO's Western Pacific office. 'One reason is that the dangerous type 3 of dengue fever, which was predominant in countries like Thailand, has not been commonly seen in this year's outbreaks.' Twenty countries had reported dengue cases since 1999, he said. Thailand has reported 11,400 cases this year, compared with 29,000 in 1998 and 24,000 in 1999. No figures were available for last year. Dr Palmer said reported cases and deaths from dengue fever had started to rise in May and June. The hardest-hit countries have been Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and, in the Pacific, French Polynesia and Samoa. 'Thailand is always the focal point for dengue. They usually have the most deaths and the most severe cases. On the other hand, the Thais are very good in treating dengue and their monitoring system is good,' he said. WHO had also heard unofficial reports that the mainland was suffering a continuing epidemic. But Chinese officials have not reported any cases this year. Because of dengue's impact on tourism, countries were hesitant to report cases, Dr Palmer said. Dengue epidemics come in three-year cycles. In 1998, 356,554 cases were reported, with 64,066 in 1999 and 45,603 last year. 'Levels seen so far in 2001 have been below those seen in 1998 but are higher than in 1999 and 2000, which gives rise for concern,' Dr Palmer said. In 1998, 1,470 deaths were reported, 112 in 1999 and 167 last year. Originally known as haemorrhagic fever because of the massive bleeding it induces, the first epidemic of dengue fever was recorded on the mainland more than 1,000 years ago. Hong Kong had its first epidemic in 1901-07.