Why are we ignoring dengue?

Last Updated: Mon, Oct 22, 2012 05:25 hrs

Tamil Nadu is feeling the sting and bite of the dengue virus like never before. Official figures say that there have been 5,376 dengue cases this year in the state. Thirty nine people have already died from dengue this year, the highest number in the country till date.

Sources citing Intelligence reports say that the number of cases of people having dengue symptoms is much higher and that the official unit is taking the issue very seriously. Many say the spread of dengue cases was a disaster waiting to happen.

Has the state been ignoring the early warning alerts which emerged a couple of years ago?

Way back in 2010, the King Institute of Preventive Medicine, Chennai, did a retrospective analysis of dengue cases based on samples over three years -- 2006 to 2008. In its conclusion, the study observed, “The dengue IgM seropositivity among the suspected cases indicates active dengue virus activity. Increase in the probable secondary infections especially in a country like ours where multiple serotypes are prevalent raises concern over probable increase in the incidence of the more serious DHF (dengue haemorrhagic fever )/DSS (dengue shock syndrome). Studies need to be done to identify circulating serotypes of dengue virus to design preventive strategies.”

Dengue came to India in 1964, and from the late 1990s, periodic reports of dengue cases have been emanating from Ludhiana, Mangalore, Chennai, Vellore , Lucknow, Delhi and Kolkata. There are four strains of the virus, numerically identified as 1,2 3 and 4. In Tamil Nadu, the numbers have only been climbing year after year.

Dengue is spread by the infected female aedes mosquito, which feeds only on human blood. Since the infection is passed on to the eggs by the female mosquito, it is important to ensure that water doesn't stay stagnant in containers, tanks and other natural spots for long periods, and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Health experts say Tamil Nadu has been unable to contain the spread, since people have unwittingly been encouraging their growth by storing water in tanks and containers.

“The extensive power cuts have forced people to store water in large tanks and containers. This has added to the breeding of mosquitoes, and unless sanitation officials accelerate awareness drives and educate the people, the virus will only get more rampant in the coming years," warns the expert.

While other mosquito borne diseases do not turn fatal very quickly, and are curable at the earliest, dengue results in loss of body fluids fairly quickly and patients infected by it need to be given IV fluids at the earliest. In severe cases, patients can experience a drop in their platelet count, a scenario where the body’s ability to fight infections goes down. Timely diagnoses is the key.

Observers say that they are seeing a decadal peak in the number of people with dengue symptoms, and correct information is the key to containing the spread of the virus.

“There should be more coordination between private hospitals and the civic agencies , and  private hospitals should inform the Chennai Corporation immediately if there is a case of dengue, but that is not always happening,” says one of them.  

Earlier this week, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa said: “There is no need to panic as the government is taking all steps to prevent its (dengue) spread.”  Officials will not only have to go all-out to contain the spread of virus, but also be prepared to tackle head-on water logging and choked storm water drains, ahead of the impending North East Monsoon.

Experts say that mere desilting of storm water drains in isolation will not work. Unless storm water drains are cleaned and made into an inter linking stretch for rain water to flow uninhindered, the city and many areas of the state will continue to  come up against water logging problems, and end up as breeding grounds for mosquitoes leading to water-borne diseases.

Recently at the South Indian Health Ministers’ Conference, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad recommended fogging and de-larving operations by authorities in all the southern states which have witnessed a spike in dengue cases. He also mooted the setting up of a national health initiative “to battle this disease like we did for malaria. ”

Maybe Tamil Nadu should push the Centre for such an initiative.

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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist