As if Covid-19 wasn’t enough, India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh is faced with a major outbreak of dengue fever. The mosquito-borne tropical disease has already infected almost 600 people and killed dozens.

Dengue fever is spread via mosquito bites, causing skin rash, high fever, headache, vomiting and muscle and joint pains. Its severe phase can be lethal, with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning that the mortality rate of the virus could exceed 20% without proper medical care.

A vaccine against dengue fever was developed by French pharma company Sanofi Pasteur in the mid-2010s and is currently approved in around 20 countries. However, the Dengvaxia jab is only given to those who have previously recovered from the disease, or to populations in areas where the virus is endemic. The vaccine’s trials revealed that it increased the chances of severe dengue in those who had never been infected before.

The disease has become a global problem in recent decades, with between 100 million and 400 million infections registered every year, mainly in Asia and South America, according to the WHO. India had reported a multi-year low of 56 deaths from dengue fever in 2020, but it appears to be making a comeback in the country this year. 

The epicenter of the current outbreak is located in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state. The Firozabad area has been hit the hardest, with a total of 578 cases of dengue fever officially confirmed there over the past 30 days, according to additional director of the health department, AK Singh. 

The Times of India (TOI) paper cited medical sources who claimed that around 12,000 in the area were confined to their beds with a high fever. The death toll from dengue had reached 114 people, mainly children, in Firozabad as of Sunday, according to the paper. 

Government hospitals are struggling to squeeze in all the patients, with prices skyrocketing in private medical institutions, it added. 

Dengue infections have actually surpassed the number of coronavirus cases in Uttar Pradesh, with the authorities saying on Monday that there were just 184 Covid-19 patients in the state and declaring more than half of its territory “coronavirus-free.” Since the start of the pandemic, Uttar Pradesh had seen 1.7 million confirmed cases and almost 22,900 deaths related to Covid-19.   

In his interview with TOI, Singh attributed the spike in dengue fever cases to a “lack of sanitation and hygiene,” with the worst-affected areas being located near “unclear drains and places affected by waterlogging.”   

The situation further deteriorated because many poor families first took their sick relatives to amateur medical practitioners, whom the official described as “quacks,” and only visited the actual medics when their condition worsened, he said.

The authorities have been carrying out a set of preventive measures to stem the spread of dengue fever, targeting the carriers of the disease. They’ve released thousands of Gambusia, or mosquitofish, into the water bodies in Firozabad to eat the mosquito larvae, while also sending special teams to check households for waterlogging and fumigate the areas at risk.

Cases of dengue fever have also been reported in other parts of the country, including New Delhi. According to a new civic report, there were 34 infections in the Indian capital in the first 11 days of September. A total of 158 people have contracted the mosquito-borne virus in the city since the start of the year.

Outbreaks of dengue fever usually occur in India between July and November, but they can sometimes stretch to mid-December.

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