DengueThe dengue fever season which is usually synonymous with the monsoons in India is showing no signs of abating. The numbers are much higher than last year in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, whose already overworked hospitals and civic bodies are struggling to contain the ailment and treat the ill. We talked to Dr Arvind Aggarwal, senior consultant, internal medicine at the Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, Delhi about the disease, why it won’t go away and how people should pay more attention to the onset of the fever:

Is there any significant change in the disease trend this year? Are the elderly or people with lower immunity likelier to suffer from dengue?

This year we are seeing a large number of healthy young adults, especially teenagers suffering from the ailment. The reason for this is that they are more likely to travel or stay outdoors as compared to aged people or immune compromised people. Normally, every family tries to keep their homes free of mosquitoes and maintain hygiene when people go out, they are likelier to be bitten by dengue-carrying mosquitoes. (Read: Dengue fever: Symptoms, medication and prevention)

What are the symptoms of dengue fever? How can people recognise it early?

The most glaring symptoms are high-grade fever, chills, severe headache and pain behind the eyes (retro-orbital pain), severe headaches and body aches. After the second day of onset of the aforementioned symptoms, they may even start vomiting or feel extremely restless. In many patients we can diagnose the disease in a day itself, but in some cases people stay home when they have fever and self-medicate. Only when it becomes very severe and they are not able to bear the headaches and retro-orbital pain do they come to a doctor.

 It is important that we recognise the possibility of a patient possibly suffering from dengue. Even doctors should take these complaints seriously. This is important because if it is diagnosed early the complications are much lower and can be handled effectively. (Read: Can papaya leaves help cure dengue?)

Should all patients presenting with high fever be aggressively tested for dengue?

Yes, it is essential that physicians have a high suspicion of dengue fever, especially in these two months when it is epidemic.

What are the tests that are done to detect the presence of dengue?

 A test called NS1 (a test for the presence of the viral antigen) and other tests for the antibodies against the dengue virus can be done. The NS1 test is more accurate on the first seven days of the infection. If the patient comes to us after seven days, then we perform serological tests, where we test for the presence of the antibodies against the virus. Since these antibodies are produced by the body only after five to seven days, they are more effective. The most important thing here is that this antigen can be tested at any point during the infection, unlike in malaria where the test yields proper results only while the patient is having fever. Of course, the tests give better results at the peak of the disease. (Read: Dengue fever – do not give Aspirin or Ibuprofen to the patient)

What complications can dengue fever lead to?

Patients may suffer from very low blood pressure and very low platelet count. The patient’s also likely to bleed from various orifices like the nose and mouth and they might even notice blood in their urine. When it gets worse, the patient is likely to suffer from dengue haemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.  

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