NEW DELHI: Factory worker Mohammad Awwal is gripped by fever, sweats and the sort of agonising aches that mean his condition is sometimes called “breakbone disease”. It’s an annual plague in India and a hidden epidemic, say experts.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease with no known cure or vaccination that strikes fear into the citizens of New Delhi when it arrives with the monsoon rains — just as the scorching heat of the summer is subsiding.
Hospital wards are overwhelmed and tales abound of deaths and cases while New Delhi public authorities insist that only 3,500 have fallen sick so far this year — with only five fatalities.
In a sign that this year’s outbreak could be as bad as record-breaking 2010, the city’s largest public hospital, Hindu Rao, announced earlier this month that it had suspended all routine surgeries to make room for more dengue patients.
The Delhi government has blamed prolonged monsoons for the hike in infections, but says it has added beds at hospitals and increased resources for spraying insecticides to tackle the mosquito menace. “It’s nothing to worry about, there is no crisis,” Charan Singh, additional director of Delhi health services said, dismissing allegations that the city of 17 million under-reports the problem.
The virus — first detected in the 1950s in the Philippines and Thailand —affects two million people across the globe annually, with the number of cases up 30 times in the last 50 years, according to the World Health Organisation. Transmitted to humans by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, it causes high fever, headaches, itching and joint pains that last about a week. There are four strains, one of which can cause fatal internal bleeding. In India, cases have increased sharply over the last five years — there have been 38,000 so far in 2013 — but doctors say these numbers only capture part of the problem.