After malaria, dengue may be the next threat. Are the civic authorities ready?

Malaria is swamping Mumbai, with the number of cases steadily increasing, and the city is facing an acute shortage of hospital beds. Doctors now fear that the next threat could be dengue

Yesterday, Moneylife had reported (http://moneylife.in/article/78/7932.html) on how malaria is spreading like wildfire across the city. Hospitals are being swamped by an increasing number of cases. It is not just the civic hospitals that are facing this deluge of patients; private hospitals are also being hit by a shortfall in bed capacities.

Now, doctors are cautioning that if and when the malaria outbreak is contained, the city could witness higher amounts of patients being affected by dengue - another debilitating disease - due to the sporadic rainfall being witnessed in the city over the past few days.

"We are aware that once this present spell of malaria subsides, there is a real danger of dengue setting in," said Dr Lalit Kapoor, a member of the Association of Medical Consultants (AMC).

Doctors believe that cases of dengue may start becoming visible from September and last till the end of October. The mosquitoes that spread dengue only appear during sporadic rainfall and create their menace thereafter. "Dengue has a seasonal pattern, which usually occurs after the rains, (especially) during sporadic rains. After years of observation, we can say that with the change in weather patterns, we might get some cases of dengue creeping in," said an official from civic body Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), preferring anonymity.

Malaria is spread by the female Anopheles mosquito, which generally breeds in fresh or brackish water, especially if it is stagnant or slow flowing. However, in the case of dengue, the Aedes mosquito which spreads the disease breeds in households. For instance, the parasite can multiply in cans, air-conditioners or even under tyres.

"It is difficult to control dengue as it is more prevalent in houses," the BMC official said. Dr VS Vincent, assistant medical director at Holy Spirit Hospital (at Andheri, a Mumbai suburb) also agrees, "Dengue would be hard to control."
 
As dengue fever is caused by a virus, there is no specific medicine or antibiotic to treat it. "There is no proper treatment for the disease," Dr Kapoor added. The treatment for dengue revolves around providing relief from the symptoms of the disease. Dr Kapoor has told BMC officials to intensify the fogging process (for destroying the parasite) and has told the civic body to promote the use of larvae insecticides and continue to educate people on how to ward off the disease.

BMC's chief insecticide officer Dr Arun Bamne told Moneylife that plans are already underway and there "shouldn't be any problems" with dengue.

Dengue fever can last up to 10 days; complete recovery can take as long as a month.

(This is the second part of a continuing series on the various health threats (including malaria) facing the city)

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