A stronger strain of dengue has hit India this year, causing serious disease, more hospitalisations and blood shortages.
Rahil Khan, 21, an MBA student from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, will remember his Delhi visit for long. He had come to the city last month to spend time with his friend. However, he ended up spending most of his vacation on a hospital bed instead.
Four days after he landed, Khan got high fever. “I thought it to be seasonal viral and popped in a paracetamol. The fever came down but was back soon after,” says Khan.
He saw a doctor. To his shock, Khan’s platelet count had dropped to 75,000 per microlitre of blood (normal is between 1.4 and 4 lakh). He was advised hospitalization.
“Honestly I had never bothered about my platelets before; but here I was, in the hospital with my heart skipping a beat every time the blood report showed a drop in the count,” he recollects.
Khan went to the closest government hospital - Guru Tegh Bahadur, where doctors asked him to wait as they admitted patients with count around 30,000.
“They asked me to get my platelet count checked daily, and twice a day if the count dropped to 50,000,” says Khan.
Much as he hoped the count did not touch 30,000, the report on the 4th day showed 45,000, and by evening it had dropped further to 25,000.
Khan and his friend rushed to GTB, but panicked when doctors told them to keep at least two blood donors on a standby as he could need blood transfusion if the count dropped further.
“I can’t thank my friends enough. Till then I hadn’t informed my family and had only friends for support, and within hours five of them turned up to donate,” he said.
“That night in the hospital was a sleepless one as I kept wondering what would the report say in the morning,” he said.
Luckily for Khan, the count had gone up from 25,000 to 33,000 and kept going up in the subsequent reports.
Khan is not alone, in Delhi alone about 1000 people have officially tested positive for the mosquito-borne infection, with five deaths.
The number is three times higher if figures from private hospitals are believed. There’s virtually an outbreak this year, and more virulent dengue-II strain is in circulation.
According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporations also, 74 cases of dengue have been reported in Mumbai just this month.In all, a total of 1,188 cases have been registered across Maharashtra till August this year.
Doctors say irregular rainfall over the past couple of weeks is responsible for the recent increase in the number of cases.“I come across eight to 10 patients daily. Most come with viral fever symptoms and end up being diagnosed with dengue,” says Dr Pratit Sambhani from Jaslok, Breach Candy and Bhatia hospitals.
“The Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue through its bite, breeds in stagnant water, biting only in the day,” adds Dr Sambhani.
Symptoms of dengue include fever accompanied by severe headaches, muscle and joint pains and rashes. Dengue is also characterised by abdominal pain, persistent vomiting and difficulty breathing. High-risk patients include children, elderly, pregnant women and immuno-compromised.
“We are getting moderately ill dengue patients and there have been a few transfusions in our hospital in this month and our blood bank is under immense stress,” said Dr Atul Gogia, vice-chairman, department of internal medicine, New Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
In Delhi, blood banks are making up to 20 times more platelets in a day than they normally do. Platelets start dropping rapidly as a typical side-effect of dengue may turn fatal in severe cases.
Pumping in platelets is the only way to save patients who start bleeding. The Indian Red Cross Society’s blood bank in Delhi is separating platelets from up to 250 units of blood in a single day as compared to 12 till last month.
“More than 20 of our technicians are working in triple shifts around-the-clock all seven days to ensure there is no shortage of blood components. We issue more than 80% in a day,” said Dr Vanashree Singh, director blood bank, Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS).
To meet the excessive demand, IRCS is holding blood donation camps daily in Delhi NCR. Their mobile blood collection units are parked across the city and manage to collect up to 300 units of blood in a day.
“Voluntary donations meet 95% of our demand for blood, the rest 5% comes from replacement donors. If families can arrange a replacement donor nothing like it, but we aren’t refusing anyone,” said Dr Singh.