Indian medical staff examine dengue patients in beds covered with a mosquito net in the dengue ward of a civil hospital in Amritsar on September 19, 2015. Dengue fever, a mosquito-born disease with no known cure or vaccine, strikes fear into citizens of northern India when it arrives with the monsoon rains. AFP PHOTO/ NARINDER NANU        (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

As Singapore fights to contain the Zika virus, India is confronting its own outbreak of mosquito-borne viral diseases in the capital, New Delhi.

Dengue fever and chikungunya, transmitted by the same Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread Zika and cause high fever and excruciatingly aching joints, have become entrenched in the city’s urban ecosystem over the past two decades.

The prevalence of the mosquito-borne diseases, which appear during and after the rainy season, suggests that Zika would be extremely tough to eradicate from New Delhi. It has not been detected in the city so far but health experts fear it could be just a matter of time.

“If it comes, God forbid, it would be a disaster,” says Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, an internal medicine specialist at Apollo Hospital, one of New Delhi’s largest private hospitals.

Outbreaks of dengue haemorrhagic fever were sporadic before 1996, but are now an annual phenomenon, as New Delhi’s many construction sites provide ideal mosquito breeding grounds.

New Delhi last year recorded its worst dengue epidemic in two decades, with more than 15,000 officially confirmed cases, including 60 deaths. But public health experts say the true caseload was certainly higher, as Indian officials only recognise tests from government hospitals.

This year the Indian capital seems to be facing fewer case of dengue, but has seen a severe outbreak of chikungunya, which has a lower mortality rate, but can incapacitate sufferers for weeks.

There have been 20 officially confirmed Chikungunya cases in New Delhi since this year’s rains began. But Apollo says it has confirmed 350 Chinkungunya cases among its patients in August alone, along with 47 dengue cases.

The number of those infected with both ailments is expected to rise in the coming weeks as mosquito-borne diseases typically peak in October, before the winter cold sets in and temporarily reduces the mosquito population. The spectre of Zika also looms.

“Given the current scenario, Zika can come at any time,” said one public health expert, who asked not to be identified. “The physical environment is conducive, and controlling it will be very, very difficult.”

Get alerts on Zika virus when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article