Dengue fever is one of several mosquito-borne diseases that become more prevalent around the time of India’s monsoon season. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls dengue the fastest growing mosquito-borne infection worldwide, outpacing even malaria. In India, the disease is endemic across all 35 states and union territories.
Dengue fever cases were originally recorded in a handful of countries. In the last fifty years, however, the disease has become far more common, spreading enough to be considered endemic in 128 countries. Dengue incidence has increased thirty-fold in this time period.
Dengue is most commonly spread via the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus varieties of mosquito, which can form breeding populations anywhere with stagnant water. As such, the disease is most prevalent during and after the monsoon season in India when stagnant water is abundant.
Both rural and urban environments are at risk from dengue fever. Urban environments in particular host ample opportunities for stagnant water to be collected in artificial containers or on rooftops. This means huge numbers of people are potentially at risk of contracting the disease.
Many people show no symptoms at all when they contract dengue fever. For those that do, symptoms often mirror those of the flu. A high fever is common. Headaches as well as muscle and joint pains may also occur and a rash may develop near the bite. These symptoms usually present themselves within four to ten days of infection.
Between one and five percent of cases develop into a more severe form of the disease. Those most at risk of this are those already in weakened states due to other diseases, children and the elderly – heightening the need for prevention measures to be taken by these groups. The severe form of dengue is caused by a critical drop in blood pressure and is potentially fatal. If unexplained excessive bleeding or vomiting with blood occurs, medical help should be sought immediately.
Prevention and treatment
The vast majority of dengue cases are not fatal and will resolve themselves over the course of a couple of weeks. It is worth noting that the disease is viral. As such, antibiotics are of no use and should not be taken. Paracetamol – available over the counter – is advised to cope with the side effects. However, ibuprofen and aspirin should be avoided due to the blood pressure-altering effects of the disease.
The mosquito species responsible for spreading the disease typically bite in the early morning or early evening before dusk. It is advisable to wear clothing that covers the skin during these periods in order to minimise the chance of being bitten. Sleeping under a mosquito net — preferably one that has been treated with insecticide — can also reduce the risk of being bitten.