With nearly 4,000 cases reported last month, Mumbai witnessed a 60% rise in suspected dengue cases from October 2013. In a city that is home to 1.2 crore people, the civic insecticide department has only 2,500 field staff who identify, treat and eliminate breeding sites of dengue-transmitting Aedes mosquitoes.
The last recruitment to the department, entrusted to save you from dengue, was done 25 years ago, when 160 workers were hired. Two decades later, the number of staffers has remained the same, even as the city’s population has grown by 7% between 2001 and 2011 alone, according to the last census.
The department was primarily established to control malaria infection. However, the strategy to kill malaria-spreading Anopheles mosquito may not necessarily help in controlling dengue, as the breeding sites of the agents are different, said the officials.
Unlike the Anopheles mosquito, which needs a large body of water to breed, the Aedes mosquito thrives even in a spoonful of water.
“The onus of dengue control is on the community as Aedes mosquitoes mostly breed indoors. The civic body should identify outbreak months and get volunteers and additional staff to increase door-to-door surveillance,” said Milind Mhaske, project director, Praja Foundation, a non-profit.
The sudden rain in October and November made arresting the spread of dengue more difficult this year, as the showers created multiple outdoor Aedes mosquito-breeding sites. Moreover, Mumbai’s humid weather is conducive for the transmission of the dengue virus, doctors said.
“The presence of dengue patients and the possibility of more breeding spots is a recipe for disaster,” said Dr Om Shrivastav, director of infectious diseases department, Jaslok Hospital, Peddar Road. “Temperature fluctuations will escalate the number of dengue cases.”
Senior civic officials admitted fogging exercises are not necessarily the best strategy to curb the mosquito menace, and that fogging is effective only during dawn and dusk.
“For fumigation to work, the smoke should be accumulated in an enclosed space for more than two hours,” said Dr Shrivastav.