Alarming spread of Dengue, chikungunya

Alarming spread of Dengue, chikungunya

As in previous years, monsoon season this year has been accompanied by a surge in cases of vector-borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya. While reports of new cases of dengue are pouring in from across the country, it is Kerala and the other southern states that are bearing the brunt. According to the National Vector-Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP), of the 23,000 cases of dengue and 32 deaths confirmed nationwide till July 16, a total of 11,581 cases and 20 deaths were reported in Kerala, followed by Tamil Nadu with 4,654 cases and one death, and Karnataka with 2,911 cases and five deaths. The situation with regard to chikungunya is worrying too. Of 15,432 cases reported nationwide, Karnataka reported 7,723 cases of chikungunya till July 16. This could be the tip of the iceberg. A 2014 study by the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare found that the NVBDCP figures capture only 0.35% of the annual clinically diagnosed dengue cases in India.

According to the World Health Organisation, the incidence of dengue worldwide has risen “dramatically” in recent decades. Its geographic spread too has increased; half the world’s population is now at risk of dengue. Health experts point out that the severity of infection too has grown with different strains of dengue infecting a patient simultaneously. This makes it even more difficult to treat. Fighting vector-borne diseases is never easy especially in a country like India, which contends with at least six major vector-borne diseases. It becomes even more difficult when health authorities are in a state of denial. Health officials claim that the dengue situation in Bengaluru is under control but doctors in private and government hospitals in the city say that the situation is “alarming.” Apparently, Bengaluru’s hospitals and clinics are unable to cope with the number of dengue patients coming in for treatment.

Health authorities need to improve public health infrastructure to ensure that patients are not turned away due to a shortage of beds and medicines. Importantly, there is a need to create awareness of symptoms and treatment. For one, fever with body pain is not necessarily dengue and must not be treated as such. Besides, many believe that sleeping under a mosquito net can prevent dengue. While it may help prevent malaria, it cannot keep away an infected Aedes egypti mosquito, which spreads dengue and is a day biter. This mosquito breeds in stagnant water inside homes – in vases, unused commodes and open water tanks. The onus in denying it a breeding ground lies with us. Health authorities can and should improve treatment facilities but it is we who are the best guards against the disease-spreading mosquito.
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