In the past three months, Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children, Parel, one of the biggest treatment facilities for children in the city, has reported four cases of chikungunya in newborns. At least five more such cases have been reported across the city.
The infection is very rare in newborns, which is why many of the cases were not detected at the first go, said doctors. They said the babies may have contracted the infection from their mothers, who carried the infection during pregnancy. The disease’s effect on newborns is far more severe than on adults, doctors warned.
“After the newborns were diagnosed, we found out that the mothers had fever, joint and muscle pains during the pregnancy. In one of the cases, even the mother’s PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test was positive,” said said Dr Neha Mehta, who was treated the children at Wadia Hospital. A PCR test, in which selected sections of DNA or RNA are reproduced for analysis, is used to detect various infections, including chikungunya.
Chikungunya is a viral infection transmitted to humans by mosquitoes that also transmit diseases such as dengue and yellow fever. While the symptoms are easy to spot in adults, they are difficult to detect in babies, said doctors. However, doctors said that in all the cases, the children had peculiar hyperpigmentation around their mouth and nose. “The rash like hyper pigmentation is suggestive of chikungunya infection,” said a doctor from LTMG Sion Hospital’s neonatology department.
“These babies were crying continuously, had prolonged fever and heavy breathing. Once we ruled out bacterial infection, we did the PCR test for chikungunya and the results were positive,” said Dr Mehta. She added the all the cases were from Mumbai, which shows that chikungunya transmission is active in the city.
A six-day old baby at Surya Hospital in Santa Cruz had joint swelling, convulsions and heavy breathing. An examination of his brain fluid suggested that he developed encephalitis – inflammation of the brain.
Dr Sudha Rao, paediatric endocrinologist at Wadia Hospital, said that the surge in the number of cases this year, both in adults and newborns, could mean there was a different strain of the chikungunya virus, but this needed to be confirmed.
Doctors warned that chikungunya infection in newborns could cause much more severe problems than in adults, and that there is no cure for the disease. No anti-viral drugs are available for to cure chikungunya infections and only the symptoms of the infection can be treated.
“Chikungunya infection in children could lead to problems in brain development and severe breathing problems,” said Dr Bhupendra Avasthi at Surya Hospital.
Studies have shown that women who are infected with the chikungunya virus during their pregnancy also have a higher risk of miscarriage, he added.