Delhi and the National Capital Region is witnessing the worst outbreak of dengue since 2010 with more than 1,800 cases and five deaths reported till September 12. Public health professionals have said the worst is yet to come.
As many as 1,872 cases and five deaths have been reported in the NCR so far, threatening to touch the high numbers of 2010 when mismanagement by civic authorities during the Commonwealth Games pushed the death toll to eight with 6,259 infections reported.
Here's a lowdown on the "breakbone" fever:
How does the infection spread?
The infection is transmitted through the bite of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, which feeds on blood to produce eggs. Unlike the flu, dengue does not spread directly from person to person. Aedes aegypti is a domestic, day-biting mosquito that breeds in rainwater and fresh water that collects in flower pots, plastic bags, birdbaths, old tyres, containers, potholes and garbage.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms usually start within five to six days after an infected mosquito has bitten a person. The fever lasts seven-10 days before subsiding on its own.
People with dengue get a high fever, more than 103 degrees Fahrenheit, severe headache (usually in the forehead), pain behind the eyes. severe joint and muscle pain (also called "breakbone disease"), nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, internal bleeding, including from the gums, and rash.
What's the treatment?
Since dengue is a viral infection it is self-limiting and a person gets better within a week. The treatment includes managing fever and pain with paracetamol and drinking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.
There is no vaccination available, though Sanofi Pasteur announced the success for its vaccine dengue candidate last year, after results of its phase III trials showed it lowered dengue by 60% and hospitalisations by 80%.
Hospitalisation for transfusion may be needed if the platelet count drops under 30,000 platelets per microlitre of blood, Platelets are a component in blood that helps the blood clot and stop bleeding. Very low levels – the normal range is 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microlitre of blood – lead to internal bleeding and shock, which results in death.
Can you get dengue more than once?
Yes. There are four distinct strains of dengue virus - Den-1, Den-2, Den-3 and Den-4. Since the viruses do not offer cross-immunity against each other, you can get dengue infection four times in your life. The dominant strains this year are Den-2 and Den-4, which are deadlier ones that cause more severe disease.
How can you protect yourself?
Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs. Use mosquito repellent sprays, creams, coils, mats or liquids to drive away mosquitoes and use screens on doors and windows. Prevent mosquito breeding by keeping your surroundings dry.