CHENNAI: On Wednesday night an SMS that started in media circles went viral – ‘First dengue death in Chennai. Manjula (29) d/o Kasinathan died due to dengue. She was admitted in KHM Hospital in Anna Nagar,’ it read. While it turned out that the woman tested negative for the disease post-mortem, word had got out and caused a mini panic. Courtesy the widespread news about 34 dengue deaths indicating an epidemic in the Tirunelveli-Tuticorin belt, people were understandably afraid. “We have run out of mosquito repellant and coils in the last two days. People have begun purchasing two and three mosquito nets, like they're going to war,” said the store manager of a retail supermarket in Anna Nagar. While mosquito quelling measures are very much in vogue during a regular Chennai summer, this time the scare has taken things a little further.
Astonishingly, it is only after the deaths in Tirunelveli began to make news that people began taking dengue seriously. Even AH1N1 (swine flu) caused a massive panic in April when cases began cropping up and the total number of people affected this year in Chennai is just over 100. In comparison dengue has been silently consistent with over 131 cases being reported this year alone. “As long as the fatalities are few and far between, people don't take it seriously. Now that dengue is spreading quickly people with a fever and rash are crowding our OP wards,” said an administrator at Stanley Medical College and Hospital. And almost as if on cue, doctors in private hospitals that Express spoke to admitted that in the last week people have been bringing in their children as soon as they break out with a rash or are mildly warm. “They come into the ER and ask us to save the child from dengue,” said a doctor at a private hospital in south Chennai, “But we actually encountered two kids with dengue through this, so I suppose it's good in a way to be paranoid,” he said.
Experts in the field of infection control have said that corrective measures like repellants aren't the best way to keep dengue at bay. “It's all in the water,” said Ram Gopalakrishnan, infectious disease physician, Apollo Hospitals. “People do not understand that unlike malarial vector mosquitoes, the species that carries dengue can live and lay eggs in small puddles of water,” he explained. Though it may look absolutely innocent, a simple puddle of water, a bucket left half full in the toilet or a little extra water in a flower pot can become a breeding ground for these winged terrors. “They have adapted to multiply and live in urban conglomerate areas. They don't really need large puddles on the road or dirty canals to complete their life cycle,” he said.
Though the serotype-3 of the virus, the fatal strain that has been detected down south, has not yet made its way to the underbelly of Chennai's mosquito populace, perhaps these periods of panic will help to keep people on their toes in these times, “Less than one per cent of dengue cases are fatal, but when that one per cent makes takes such a huge toll, there's no harm in taking an extra cautious step,” he concluded.