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Dengue fever outbreak fears in Bihar

Trees in water of Kosi river flood of Bihar 2008 in Purniya district,Bihar,India
Flooding pictured in Bihar’s Purniya district in 2008. Heavy flooding has been witnessed in the state on multiple occasions this year, including since heavy rainfall in late September leaving swathes of the state waterlogged.

Amidst fears of a dengue fever outbreak in Bihar state capital Patna, the state health department is readying itself. 

Waterlogged following a period of heavy rainfall, Patna has registered almost 250 dengue cases since September 27th – compared to 409 cases registered between January 1st and September 27th. Across the state, flooding has affected 1,400 villages across fifteen districts. 73 deaths have been reported at the time of writing, with more than twenty lakh hit by the floods. The state has been afflicted with floods at multiple points this year. 

As of October 5th, Bihar has reported 980 dengue cases and 88 chikungunya cases. Patna accounts for the majority of cases of both diseases, with 640 of the state’s dengue cases and 74 of its chikungunya cases coming from the capital. The dengue fever outbreak has prompted a response from the state health department to tackle the diseases, influenced in no small part by both dengue and chikungunya being in-season. 

Chikungunya mosquito.
The aedes aegypti mosquito, one of the most prominent dengue vectors.

“This is…the peak season for dengue and chikungunya cases,” principal secretary for health Sanjay Kumar told The Times of India. “Even if there is no waterlogging, the cases of dengue and chikungunya will be high during this time of the year. How many of them are due to waterlogging is difficult to say.” 

“Those affected were rescued with the help of boats and provided relief,” said Patna district magistrate Kumar Ravi. “We are now focusing on preventing the outbreak of vector-borne diseases. For this purpose, 75 teams have been constituted to spray bleaching powder and anti-larval material.” 

Fogging — a procedure in which insecticide is mixed with water droplets and emitted by a fogging machine — is also taking place in affected areas; medical colleges have been designated as ‘sentinel sites’ for treatment of dengue fever; and free medical camps and medic teams have been established for the treatment of dengue, chikungunya, diarrhoea, lung conditions, and skin diseases. “The doctors would be carrying necessary equipment and drugs to deal with emergencies,” said Ravi. 

Flooding presents opportunities for the spread of infectious diseases. Communicable conditions in relief camps can spread easily due to the densely packed conditions, whilst pockets of stagnant water allow for mosquitoes to breed, enabling the spread of vector-borne diseases such as chikungunya and dengue, making efforts to control breeding populations imperative. 

Inadequate infrastructure has been pinpointed as driving the calamity. “The authorities have the resources, money and workforce to arrive at a solution,” said civil engineer and flooding expert Dinesh Mishra. “However, planning of drainage systems and efficient sump machines are nowhere to be seen. Authorities have pushed the city to the edge of disaster by misusing public money.” 

The Centre is supporting efforts to control disease outbreaks in the state.

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