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Dengue Surge's Health Crisis and Economic Impact in South Asia: Sri Lanka and India

Dengue fever has increased throughout South Asia during the monsoon season, particularly affecting Sri Lanka and India. The healthcare system is under stress, and the economy is feeling the pinch as a result of this epidemic.

India needs to address the health and economic consequences of this mosquito-borne disease immediately, with 19,444 confirmed cases and 16 fatalities as of April 30, 2024. There have been 7,006 cases and six deaths in Karnataka alone as of July 6, 2024. Bengaluru has seen 1,908 cases. Over the past three months, there have been over ten fatalities and thousands of infections in North 24 Parganas and Kolkata, respectively, while West Bengal and Maharashtra have also seen an upsurge. Mumbai has registered over three thousand instances this month.

With a case fatality rate below 1% since 2008, India recorded 164,103 dengue cases in 2021. With little to no discomfort, the majority of patients are up and running again in about a week. Swelling glands, a rash, a high temperature, a strong headache, pain in the muscles and joints, and so on are some of the symptoms. Abdominal pain, bleeding gums or noses, and potentially lethal bleeding are problems that may emerge in severe cases.

This monsoon season, dengue might cause neurological issues, according to Dr. Praveen Gupta of Fortis Hospital, who is also the chief of neurology and principal director. Aedes mosquitoes thrive in warm, stagnant environments, which causes an upsurge in dengue fever cases. When the virus infects and inflames the brain, it can cause neurological symptoms such as encephalitis, meningitis, and myelitis, as he stated.

Dengue fever can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches, altered mental status, seizures, and coma in certain patients. "The virus's neurotropic nature allows it to directly infect neural cells, causing damage and inflammation," said Dr. Gupta. The infection triggers an immunological response, making managing these neurological disorders difficult.

According to new research in the PLOS journal, hospitalisation for dengue fever is more common among obese children in Sri Lanka. The study examined 4,782 children between the ages of 10 and 18. Among the seropositive youngsters, 18.2% had a body mass index (BMI) higher than the 97th percentile, whereas 9.48% had a lower BMI percentile.

"The association between obesity and severe dengue needs further investigation," the study noted, highlighting the necessity of bringing attention to the hazards of dengue in obese individuals in light of the rising international obesity epidemic.

Dengue has significant economic consequences. The primary dengue vector, Aedes aegypti, now has more places to breed in containers and water tanks as a result of climate change. "The proliferation of these breeding sites is likely to escalate dengue cases, prolong the transmission season, and incur substantial costs," cautioned Laxminarayan, a climate change and disease expert.

Experts say that controlling dengue epidemics through public education, effective public health measures, and policy initiatives is critical for mitigating these repercussions. The World Health Organisation's recent prequalification of the TAK-003 dengue vaccine on May 10, 2024, provides optimism. In high-burden areas, children aged 6–16 should have this live-attenuated vaccine developed by Takeda, which targets all four serotypes of the dengue virus.

World Health Organisation Director for Regulation and Prequalification Dr. Rogerio Gaspar said, "The prequalification of TAK-003 is a significant step in expanding global access to dengue vaccines, facilitating procurement by UN agencies including UNICEF and PAHO."

The changing climate and the monsoon season are aggravating the public health crisis of dengue fever in South Asia. It is crucial to identify and intervene early in order to mitigate the serious health consequences, particularly neurological issues. The financial toll highlights the importance of mass immunisation drives, education efforts, and mosquito control measures to reduce the prevalence and severity of this disease in the area.

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