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Dengue fever outbreak sparks uproar in India

Dengue fever outbreak sparks uproar in India

It happens every year in northern India after the monsoon rains: The mosquitoes breed in stagnant pools, feed on humans and, in the process, spread dengue fever.
The only difference this year, officials and experts say, is a spike in media coverage that has sparked an uproar _ at times bordering on panic _ in and around New Delhi, swamping the country's premier public hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
On Thursday, dozens of people suffering from dengue were laid out on stretchers lining its narrow corridors. The stench of vomit mingled with smells of curried lentils and disinfectant.
"Look at this," said Singhita Tyagi, whose father lay on a stretcher near where another patient had vomited.
"You can see how clean it is here, those are her relatives cleaning it up. If we had to wait for a cleaner it would take hours," Tyagi said.
Other patients had to fashion makeshift equipment, clipping intravenous drips to unused fire extinguisher brackets or simply holding the IVs in their hands.
Since the dengue season began, as the monsoon tapered off in late August, 2,900 cases have been reported across India with 39 people dying from the disease, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told reporters.
That puts India on track to match the roughly 4,000 cases reported in 2004, the last year for which figures were available. But the numbers are nowhere near the 13,000 cases reported in 2003.
Ramadoss called for calm, lashing out at overheated news reports.
"There is no need to panic," Ramadoss said, adding: "The only problem is that the media created a scare."
Though, as in many countries, the media is a popular punching bag for Indian officials, the country's proliferating television news channels have in recent days produced particularly breathless coverage of dengue.
Every day, many newspapers are filled with dengue reports, from recriminations against the government to advice on how to combat mosquitoes.
Dengue first became big news in India over the weekend as word spread that one of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences' doctors had died from the disease and another 19 doctors and medical students there had been infected.
The reports started a wave of coverage that continued Thursday with news that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's grandsons were suffering from fevers and being tested for the disease.
Still, experts say this year's outbreak is not unusual.
"It is absolutely normal. After the monsoon, we always have dengue cases," said Sampath Krishnan of the World Health Organization's communicable disease department in India.
"We'll have more cases and it will taper off by end of October," he added.
A big part of the problem in New Delhi is that officially the All India Institute, known as AIIMS, is the only state-run hospital designated to treat dengue.
"A scare was created, everybody with fever rushed to the AIIMS," Ramadoss said.
On Thursday alone, doctors at the hospital examined some 1,000 patients, admitting 34 of them, said hospital spokesman Dr. Shakti Gupta.
All told, there are some 50,000 people visiting the hospital everyday, a figure that includes the often large families who accompany people coming for treatment.
Female aedes mosquitoes transmit dengue, and symptoms include high fever, joint pain, headache and vomiting. It is fatal in rare cases.
The annual outbreak comes as monsoon rains, which begin in June and usually end in September, subside, leaving behind countless small pools and puddles of dirty, stagnant water where infectious mosquitoes breed. Open sewers that are features of many Indian towns and cities provide even more breeding grounds.
In an effort to control this year's outbreak, municipal workers have been spraying pesticides in markets, residential areas and parks around Delhi since the start of the week.
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Associated Press reporters Ashok Sharma and Nirmala George contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-15 21:53 GMT+08:00