Today's Paper

`It is safe to test for dengue'

CHENNAI OCT. 10. It is dengue season again and the lesson this year is that it is no longer an urban phenomenon. It has not been a virulent year for the virus in Chennai, but it has spread its dragnet — going as far as Kanyakumari, where 250 cases of dengue were confirmed two months ago.

Though public health officials say the epidemic has been contained in Kanyakumari, they are unhappy about the movement of the virus. Nearly two months ago, 500 suspected cases were reported from the district, half of them confirmed with serological testing.

The Chennai-based CHILDS Trust Hospital has received a number of cases from Neyveli, and stray cases are still coming in from Tindivanam, Salem and even the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Doctors say cases are being referred from `semi-urban' and rural centres as well. This has also been borne out by a study conducted by the Indian Council for Medical Research (the Centre for Entomology Research) in many districts, according to S. Balasubramanian, consultant paediatrician at CHILDS Trust.

With the designated dengue season begun in September, the cases have started trickling into city hospitals. Corporation health department officials say 38 cases were reported in the city last month. The Institute of Child Health has so far registered around 10 cases and the CHILDS Trust Hospital, approximately 200 cases of suspected dengue, with five or six cases being brought in almost everyday.

Public health officials say the disease has not reached epidemic proportions, compared to the number of cases reported in the past. In 1997 (from when documentation of the disease in the city began) there were 264 cases. The following year, the number dropped to 128. It went up to 135 in 1999, but fell to 81 in 2000. The highest figure was recorded in 2001, when the disease reached epidemic proportions, with 816 persons contracting the virus.

The Health department officials say though there is no cause for alarm yet, it will be safe for parents and paediatricians to test for dengue, even with the onset of fever.

P.Ramadevi, director, Institute of Child Health, says sluggishness and redness or rashes on the palms and feet of the child are definite indicators.

Dr. Balasubramanian says the manifestations this year are "surprisingly mild". They were severer in 2001. He attributes this to cases coming to the hospital early. "Parents are bringing children early to hospitals. If they come in at an early stage, it is likely that they will not go into shock or suffer from viral haemorrhagic fever. In fact, we have had very few cases, which required ICU care and certainly no mortalities."