Even as chikungunya strikes Delhi and other NCR areas at its worst, killing as many as 15 persons so far, doctors suspect that the virus has mutated, which has led to the severity of its symptoms.
Doctors say that there are an abnormally high number of cases of fever with similar symptoms, but tests on patients show negative results, which is quite surprising. This, they say, indicates mutation in the virus for which there should be thorough research, apart from the ongoing treatment, so that they remain prepared for the next year.
Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected Aedes mosquitoes. It causes fever and joint pain. Other symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. However, doctors say that the symptoms this year are “quite severe” and this may be because of the mutation of the virus, which means it has evolved. In common words, mutation is a permanent alteration of the gene of an organism which leads to change in its character.
A mutation in chikungunya was last identified in 2007. After that, there has been very little research on mutations in chikungunya.
According to Dr Rajeev Saxena, a consultant physician, patients are coming with exactly the same symptoms as that of chikungunya, but their blood test shows negative results.
“Even many cases of viral fever are showing similar symptoms like joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue etc that are normally associated with chikungunya. Those patients who are positive for chikungunya tests are showing more severe symptoms compared to the past few years,” he said.
Dr Ashwani Goyal, who is also secretary of the Delhi Medical Association, told this newspaper that it is certain that the virus has undergone mutation.
“While all efforts should be made to treat the patients as of now, reputed institutions like the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) should carry out research to establish whether there has been a mutation in the virus and if so, what kind of changes it has undergone, so that a proper strategy could be worked out to deal with any such crisis next year,” said Goyal, adding that his association is talking to these institutions in this regard and will extend all possible help to them.
Saxena said he had not seen so many chikungunya cases earlier. He said normally there is no death in cases of Chikungunya, but this year deaths are taking place. Some doctors pointed out that the outbreak was a result of extended monsoon which led to a much higher incidence of mosquitoe breeding.
According to Dr Naresh Chawla, right now everyone is busy handling the existing cases. “But I think institutions and government should do a proper research to understand the nature of mutation so that we can be ready to fight the disease next year. As regards mutation, clinical symptoms of the virus do change a little bit year to year. But this time it seems the change is big. Clinically, it appears like Chikungunya because of its similar symptoms, but it does not show in the tests. So it remains a mystery for us.”
Abha Sharma, a resident of Ghaziabad, said: “I had severe joint pain and fever about two weeks ago. The pain was so severe that I could not get up from my bed. After tests, the doctor said that it was a case of viral and there was no chikungunya or dengue. Even after two weeks I am not feeling normal, though the problem of fever is over.”
In the wake of an increasing number of patients, Apollo Hospital and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital have arranged for more beds. Safdarjung Hospital is using its psychiatry ward to accommodate the increasing number of patients.
There are mainly two tests — IGMC and PCR — to test the presence of chikungunya virus.