Thursday, October 05, 2006

Epidemic proportions

News Flash! Mosquitos don't discrminate!
New Delhi

In the Simple Problems with Self-Explanatory Solutions That Should Have Been Solved Forty Years Ago Department, the mosquito-borne illness Dengue ("denn-gay") strikes several places in India (Kerala, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir), with more than 70 dead so far.

Malaria is no big news; even the annual Japanese Encephalitis Outbreak (a horrible way to die, in which your brain literally melts away slowly - and the vaccine is very expensive) has become passe, probably because it is rarely widespread and seems to strike only hinterland areas. A few villagers in UP or southern Nepal, that's usually it. When you have a billion people, life is cheap.

This outbreak of dengue appears to be garnering more press attention than your average epidemic because it's (shock) acutally made it to the upper rungs of Indian society. When the rich people start getting sick, it just might be time to do something!

The article below admits as much, semi-consciously. ("When doctors are getting sick, something is wrong." All emphases below are my own.)

A lot of the local press appears to treat mosquitos and their adjacent ills as unique to the subcontinent. It's quite maddening, when you realize that many other places have the selfsame problem and have dealt with it effectively, to hear people address this as though it has never happened anywhere before and it's an unknown quantity. In fact, mosquitos are a tremendous problem everywhere in the temperate world, including my homestate, where I was eaten alive when I so much as walked from the house to the car (about thirty feet). I don't know why there are no mosquito-borne diseases in the "developed" world - there are certainly plenty of mosquitos; we are a long way from getting rid of them.

Another local attitude toward mosquitos is that it is primarily a foreigners' problem. At shops and restaurants, they don't burn the mosquito coils until a foreign customer comes in...then they start taking precautions. And only the most tourist-oriented places (read: more expensive) have window screens. I asked one shopkeeper why he only lit the coils when I came in. He said, "the mosquitos do not find my blood tasty." Yet this strata of society (ordinary blue-collar Indians who live in poorly ventilated, crowded places, often with poor water sanitation) are usually the first to suffer from malaria.

When I lived (at various times in the past 4 years) in Andhra Pradesh, Chennai and Pune, the "municipality's" idea of mosquito prevention was to hire a fogger machine that made the evening rounds, chugging and clouding neighborhoods with DDT. Little kids love the noise and novelty of the machines and chase it around the block, breathing in big lungs full of the poison. I never noticed that it made any dent in the mosquitos (they just sensibly went indoors away from the smog - not hard to do when there are no screens or glass windows and most people keep open doors for air circulation), but it sure made my friends and I deadly ill, with headaches, wooziness, and severe chest pains.

You could always have functioning drains, and screens on the windows. No, that's too easy.

AIIMS Wakes Up to Dengue On Campu
NEW DELHI: After 15 people including doctors and students were tested positive for dengue at the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here, institute authorities admitted on Saturday that the situation was alarming and necessary directives were being issued to control it.

"A student is in the intensive care unit after being operated upon for a dengue-related problem. He is in a very critical condition and is on the life support system," said a top AIIMS official.

In last two weeks, over 20 cases of dengue have been reported from the AIIMS and a 17-year-old girl succumbed to the deadly fever earlier this week.

Out of the 20-odd cases, 15 have been reported from within the campus of the prestigious institute, including seven students and resident doctors.
"If doctors have caught dengue, that too in the AIIMS, then there is something wrong somewhere.
full story from Times of India.


Shinu Mathew said...

You know what bothers me a lot Siren? Even after numerous outbreaks of new strains of viruses, we as a society, never take steps to prevent it from repeating. As a result, once plague -hit surat is still living side-by-side with rats. And Mumbai is still experiencing flooding & subsequent outbreak of Leptospirosis. Look at this year. A lot of new strains have appeared in Mumbai, be it Chikun Gunya, Dengue, Lepto or Polio, our lazy & inefficient bureaucracy always blame it weather, influx of migrant etc. They never admit that the problem is their own backyard.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

This is exactly what I mean, Shinu, and I am glad you see it the same way (some people might think I was being condescending or racist or something). NONE of these diseases are anything new. They ALL occur in other places and have occured in India for a long time, if not consistently. We know how to cure ALL of them. We KNOW what to do. And yet, like the Mumbai floods, each time copious tears are shed, hands are wrung, the news is full of hysteria and then ...... nothing happens. !!! Maddening!

photoredde said...

Talk about Dengue... Not a week after arriving home from India, my friend and travel partner, Allison, came down with a horrible fever. Then the third day... a yicky rash. Dengue fever, those horrible daytime mosquitos got her. Gotta love time spent in New Delhi.