Hospitals in the Indian capital of New Delhi are overwhelmed, despite claims from public authorities that only 3,500 people have fallen ill with breakbone fever.
Breakbone fever, also known as dengue fever, is caused by a dengue virus infection, which is spread via mosquito bites. The result is fever, joint and muscle pain, headaches and a skin rash that appears similar to measles. One strain of the illness develops into a fatal dengue hemorrhagic fever causing widespread bleeding.
Citizens appear to be unaware that an epidemic is occurring right under their noses.
When factory worker Mohammad Awwal fell sick his mother took him to the hospital she was shocked to find there wasn’t even room for him.
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“I took him first to a government hospital. I was shocked to see that it was packed with dengue patients,” said his mother Mehrunissa. “There was not even a single bed available.”
Awwal’s mother is now treating him in their own home, giving him multi-vitamins, paracetamol, and water.
There is no cure or vaccine for the tropical illness.
The Indian government blames the rise in fever cases on the prolonged monsoon season – mosquitoes flourish in standing water. Cases are expected to exceed the denge season in 2010, but officials insist it is not a health crisis.
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“It’s nothing to worry about, there is no crisis,” said Director of Delhi health services Charan Singh. Singh said hospitals have added extra beds and increased the resources for spraying insecticides to reduce mosquito numbers.
“It is a lot of hype going on… The government is in action and we report all cases according to international guidelines,” Singh said.
The former health chief at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) says reporting isn’t enough.
“There is gross under-reporting of these cases every year. I believe the real numbers are always three times higher than those projected by the MCD,” V.K. Monga told AFP.
“Maybe it’s because they don’t want to create panic or because they don’t want to be blamed, but if they hide, people won’t know how bad the situation is,” an unnamed doctor the AFP.
Sandeep Budhiraja, internal medicines director at private Max Healthcare hospital in Delhi, said the dengue season its escalating each year due to lack of preparation.
“It’s an epidemic that hits the country every year, yet there is never any preparedness by officials. It just keeps getting worse,” said Budhiraja.
“It is a largely preventive, self-limiting virus, but we still hardly invest in research for treatments,” he added. “There are only some vaccines being tried out, but no luck yet.”