On Wednesday morning, 21-year-old Vijay Kumar rushed his 15-year-old brother Prashant to the fever ward in Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Science. He jostled his way through the the hall packed with scores of men, women and children, down with high fever and acute pain in their joints – most of them being tested for chikungunya.
“His (Prashant’s) blood samples have been collected and the doctors suggested a test suspecting chikungunya,” said Kumar. “We are now waiting for a doctor to prescribe medicines for the fever which hasn’t receded for the past three days, the lumps in his body and the severe joint pain.”
In one corner of the room, a security guard curled up in a stretcher was shivering. “I have been deployed in this emergency ward and have been working here for around two years,” said the guard who did not want to be named “I have witnessed thousands of malaria, dengue and chikungunya patients in this fever ward but I was never affected till now.”.
Next to him lay a police constable in uniform receiving a dose of saline. “He has very high fever and severe body ache. He too is being tested for chikungunya,” the guard said.
Twenty eight-year-old Pradeep, a plumber by profession, also awaited his test results. On his bed lay a medical sheet in which the doctor noted that he had fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit and acute pain on his joints. “I hope it is not chikungunya,” Pradeep said. “I work on a contract and I have to get back to work at the earliest.”.
The four men are among thousands who presently throng the emergency wards of government and private hospitals in the city, down with high fever and being diagnosed for chikungunya. In what can be called a severe public health crisis in the national capital, the Delhi Municipal Corporation has recorded as many as 1,057 chikungunya cases till September 10, reported PTI. This is a 90% rise in just a week.
Even data from the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme shows that the current outbreak in Delhi is worse than in previous years.
The crisis appears to have worsened with the deaths of 10 people diagnosed with chikungunya reported this week. The Indian Express reported on Wednesday that five deaths occurred at Apollo Hospital and most of the victims were above 80 years of age. The hospital authorities said that the deaths had occurred in the last three weeks.
Union Health Minister JP Nadda, however, maintained that chikungunya cannot be the cause of death even as Delhi government and the civic agencies are trading blame for the crisis. Delhi's Health Minister Satyendra Jain on Tuesday claimed that the national capital did not have an outbreak of chikungunya and blamed the media for creating panic about it. "There has never been any death due to chikungunya in the world. Medically. This is media-created panic," he said, according to a news report by ANI.
Death from chikungunya is not common. However, the disease can contribute to the cause of death especially in older people who already have serious health conditions. There is no cure of chikungunya, only treatment for its symptoms.
Dr Atul Kakar, Senior Consultant and Vice Chairman at the department of internal medicine in Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital put it in perspective. “Patients of extreme age and those with co-morbid heart, lung and liver problems or diabetes need to be more careful," Kakar said. "Chikungunya triggers the inflammation of certain cells which may lead to multi-organ failure.”
Referring to the first three deaths which were reported from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, its spokesperson Ajoy Sehgal said that the three of them were above the age of 60, two of them were diabetic with hypertension and kidney disease and the third had a severe lung ailment. “The vector-borne disease led them to a state of shock, causing death,” said Sehgal.
Meanwhile, Kumar, who watches over Prashant at AIIMS, is worried that his brother, who is in 10th standard now, may not recover before his term examinations next week. “We live here on our own and our family, which is settled in Bihar’s Siwan district, is quite tense,” he said.