New Delhi: With the late September rains lashing cities across India – including Delhi/NCR, Bengaluru and Mumbai – viral infections and mosquito-borne diseases are inevitable.
While weather forecasts predict more rainfall in the coming days, the risk of viral infections and mosquito-breeding increases as well.
Dengue, chikungunya, malaria, the flu – there are all sorts of possibilities. However, the good news is that they are very much preventable.
Before knowing about the precautions, however, it is important to be well-informed about these diseases and infections to make it easier for you to tackle it head-on.
What is dengue?
Dengue is a viral infection commonly spread by the Aedes egypti mosquito. The virus is transmitted from one person to another by the bites of infected female mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are distinguishable due to the white spots on its legs.
3.9 billion people across the world are estimated to be at risk of catching dengue.
What is chikungunya?
Chikungunya is also a virus spread by the Aedes mosquito – the same vector responsible for dengue. The infection typically develops two to twelve days after exposure. The disease was first identified in 1952 in Tanzania. The Aedes vector breeds in clear water.
What is malaria?
Malaria is also a mosquito-borne infectious disease affecting humans and other animals. If not properly treated, people may have recurrences of the disease months later. It is caused by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. These mosquitoes can breed in both fresh and muddy water.
The signs and symptoms of malaria typically begin 8–25 days following infection.
What is seasonal flu?
Seasonal flu or influenza is an acute respiratory viral infection that spreads easily from person to person. It circulates worldwide and can affect people in any age group. The infection spreads fairly easily, with rapid transmission in crowded areas including schools and nursing homes.
When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing viruses (infectious droplets) are dispersed into the air and are spread to persons in close proximity who breathe these droplets in.
It can also spread by hands contaminated with influenza viruses.
These infections largely bring health concerns to the forefront and knowing their different symptoms is of huge essence.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of these viruses are more or less similar, which makes it slightly tough for one to distinguish between them. However, there are certain different characteristics that you need to look out for in order to break it down.
It is advised that you consult your nearest doctor if you notice even a single symptom that might signal the onset of the infection.
The symptoms of dengue are -
- Sudden onset of high fever
- Muscle and joint pain
- Pain behind the eyes
- Stomach pain
While chikungunya is different from dengue, it can often be mistaken for the latter since it has similar symptoms. This is why, it is important to take medical help for accurate diagnosis. They include:
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain/swelling
Initial manifestations of the disease – common to all malaria species – are similar to those of the flu and can resemble other conditions such as sepsis, gastroenteritis, and viral diseases. They may include:
- Joint pain
- Hemolytic anemia
- Hemoglobin in the urine
- Retinal damage
Seasonal flu is characterised by:
- Sudden onset of fever
- Cough (usually dry)
- Muscle and joint pain
- Severe malaise (feeling unwell)
- Sore throat
- Cold with a runny nose
The cough can be severe and can last 2 or more weeks. Most people recover from fever and other symptoms within a week without requiring medical attention.
But influenza can cause severe illness or death especially in people at high risk. The time from infection to illness, known as the incubation period, is about 2 days.
Who is at risk of flu?
Influenza can seriously affect all populations, but the highest risk of complications occur among pregnant women, children aged 6–59 months, the elderly, individuals with specific chronic medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, and chronic heart or lung diseases, and health-care workers.
The first and foremost priority with regard to mosquito-borne diseases is protection – which means preventing mosquito bites. How to do that? Read on.
Here are a few tips and tricks you can follow to avoid getting bitten:
- Use mosquito repellents regularly – apply it to your skin, especially to all exposed areas, and clothing. For your skin, opt for a repellent that contains at least a 10 percent concentration of DEET.
- Use camphor as a repellent – you can light camphor in the room with all the doors and windows closed. Leave it for about 15-20 minutes to keep the mosquitoes away. You can also use the lemon and clove technique – just stick some cloves in a half-sliced lemon and keep it near your bed while you sleep.
- Always use a mosquito bed net while sleeping.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks.
- Wear covered shoes when outside.
- Avoid exercising outdoors as mosquitoes get attracted to sweat.
- Empty and clean all containers that hold water such as flower pots, flower vases, and animal dishes – at least once a weak – to prevent mosquitoes from breeding at your house.
- Keep your surroundings clean, ensuring that there is no stagnant water, which is a breeding ground for the mosquitoes.
- Try to stay in air-conditioned or well-screened housing.
Precautionary measures to tackle seasonal influenza:
The most effective way to prevent the disease is vaccination. Safe and effective vaccines are available and have been used for more than 60 years. Among healthy adults, influenza vaccine provides protection, even when circulating viruses may not exactly match the vaccine viruses.
However, among the elderly, influenza vaccination may be less effective in preventing illness but considerably reduces severity of disease and incidence of complications and deaths.
Vaccination is especially important for people at higher risk of serious influenza complications, and for people who live with, or care for, high risk individuals.
WHO recommends annual vaccination for:
- Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
- Children aged between 6 months to 5 years
- Elderly individuals (aged more than 65 years)
- Individuals with chronic medical conditions
- Health-care workers
Apart from vaccination, you can reduce your risk of getting flu or spreading it to other people by adopting the following steps:
- Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Discard used tissues in a bin as soon as possible
- If you have flu, keep distance from others to protect them from becoming infected with the virus
- Avoid close contact with people who get flu
- Wash hands regularly with soap and water
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth and face with unwashed hands as germs and virus can get into your system
- Keep surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles clean to get rid of germs
- Drink plenty of water and fluids – lukewarm water or fluids can help in clearing chest congestion..
- If prescribed antibiotics, complete the full course
If you get flu, your doctor may recommend taking antiviral drugs to treat your illness. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics and are may prevent serious flu complications.
A visit to the doctor is strongly advised after the onset of symptoms, but here are some things that can be done.
There is no specific medicine to treat dengue infection. If you think you may have dengue fever, you should use pain relievers with acetaminophen and avoid medicines with aspirin, which could worsen bleeding.
You should also rest, drink plenty of fluids, and see your doctor. If you start to feel worse in the first 24 hours after your fever goes down, you should get to a hospital immediately to be checked for complications.
There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus. Get plenty of rest and drink lots fluids to prevent dehydration.
Medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or paracetamol may help you reduce fever and pain. Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding). Consult your doctor if symptoms worsen.
Malaria can be a severe, potentially fatal disease (especially when caused by Plasmodium falciparum) and treatment at a hospital should be initiated as soon as possible.
How to treat a patient with malaria depends on:
- The type (species) of the infecting parasite
- The area where the infection was acquired and its drug-resistance status
- The clinical status of the patient
- Any accompanying illness or condition
- Drug allergies, or other medications taken by the patient
Most drugs used in treatment are active against the parasite forms in the blood (the form that causes disease) and include:
- Atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone®)
- Artemether-lumefantrine (Coartem®)
- Mefloquine (Lariam®)
- Doxycycline (used in combination with quinine)
- Clindamycin (used in combination with quinine)
In addition, primaquine is active against the dormant parasite liver forms (hypnozoites) and prevents relapses. Primaquine should not be taken by pregnant women or by people who are deficient in G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase). Patients should not take primaquine until a screening test has excluded G6PD deficiency.
The flu treatment you should take depends on your symptoms. For example, if you have nasal or sinus congestion, then a decongestant can be helpful.
Decongestants come in oral or nasal spray forms and are used to reduce swelling in the nasal passageways. Some doctors suggest using a saline spray instead of a medicated spray.
If you have a runny nose, postnasal drip, or itchy, watery eyes -- then an antihistamine may be helpful for your flu symptoms.
Antihistamines block the effect of "histamine," and help relieve such annoying symptoms as sneezing, itching, and nasal discharge.
Mild painkillers can help reduce your body pain to a certain extent. Consult your doctor for other alternatives depending on the severity of your symptoms.
While strong medications and drugs are normally prescribed to help treat these diseases, going natural is always the best way out. Simle measures like taking sufficient rest and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration can be helpful.
Home remedies are considered useful in dealing with viruses, however, do keep your doctor posted before adopting any herbal or natural treatments.
Home remedies for dengue:
Papaya leaves: Juice around 50g of papaya leaves and consume the juice 15 minutes after breakfast for 3 days. Do note, however, that papaya leaves are not recommended if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive.
Neem: Drink the juice of neem leaves twice a day. Or eat around 5 to 8 neem leaves in the morning.
Tawa Tawa: Drinking a glass of tea made from the herb Tawa Tawa 3 to 4 times in a day can be helpful. To prepare Tawa Tawa tea, take 5 whole Tawa Tawa plants and cut off their roots. Wash the plants properly and boil them in clean water. Strain and allow the tea to cool before drinking.
Tulsi tea: You can consume fresh tulsi leaves. You can also prepare a tea using these medicinal leaves. Simmer 15 leaves in around 200ml of water till the water reduces to half. Take this tea twice or thrice in a day.
Home remedies for chikungunya:
Ease the fever: Getting plenty of rest and taking sufficient fluids so that you don’t get dehydrated are important to help your body recover from a fever.
Try to keep the room at a comfortable temperature, neither too hot nor too cold. Also, don’t bundle up if you get the chills due to fever. It’s better to use a layer of light clothing.
A sponge bath can help cool you down when you have a fever. But don’t go for alcohol or ice rubs or take cold baths as these may make you shiver. This will then cause your core body temperature to rise.
Cold pack: Using a cold pack can help relieve aching joints. Cold can constrict your blood vessels, reduce swelling, and ease the pain. Apply some ice wrapped in a towel to swollen, painful joints to get relief.
Ginger tea: Steep some freshly grated ginger in hot water to make a delicious ginger tea. Studies show that consuming ginger can ease pain and inflammation caused by rheumatic conditions.
Turmeric: The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric can help lessen pain and swelling in your joints. Make a turmeric tea by simmering a teaspoon of turmeric powder in approximately 4 cups of water. Add a little milk and honey and you’re good to go. Or simply add a little turmeric to a glass of hot milk and drink up!
Coconut oil: Light massage of joints with coconut oil may provide relief in joint pains.
Apart from this, eat a healthy diet consisting plenty of fruits and vegetables. For rashes, a combination of olive oil and vitamin E can be applied on the affected areas of the skin.
Natural remedies for malaria:
Grapefruit: One of the most effective home remedies for malaria is Grapefruit. It should be consumed daily. The natural quinine-like substance can be extracted from the Grapefruit by boiling a quarter of it and straining its pulp.
Artemisia Annua: Also known as sweet wormwood, it is one of the most effective natural remedies for malaria. The herb has to be steeped in cold water, and the water should be consumed directly in order to get optimum results.
Cinnamon: One teaspoon of powdered cinnamon should be boiled in a glass of water with a pinch of pepper powder and a teaspoon of honey. This needs to be taken every day which is a beneficial medicine for malaria.
Lime and lemon: Lime and lemon play a vital role to reduce the quartan type of malarial fever. Take 4 to 5 drops of lime, add the juice of one lemon and dissolve it in one glass of water. This mixture needs to be consumed before the onset of fever.
Alum: Alum needs to be dry roasted and powdered. A teaspoon of this powder needs to be consumed four hours before the expected fever attack and half a teaspoon after two hours of the attack. It will give great relief from malaria.
Home remedies for the flu:
Ginger: Steep several slices of fresh ginger root in hot water and sip for an extra health boost or to soothe a cough or scratchy throat.
Honey: Honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties; if you do develop a sore or scratchy throat, honey will soothe and help heal. Use it in your tea, coffee, plain hot water or by itself.
Lemons: Add lemon juice to your tea or make hot or cold lemonade with honey to stay well, build resistance to cold and flu, and speed up healing if you do succumb.
Garlic: Don't let the putrid odour put you off. Garlic contains the immune-boosting compound allicin, also know to relieve cold and flu symptoms. Chop or crush 1-2 gloves of fresh garlic and “steep” them in hot water; then, drink it like a tea.
Salt water: It’s used in homemade saline nasal sprays, nasal washes, and gargles. It has long been used effectively to soothe sore throats, and keep respiratory passages moist, de-congested and free of invading pathogens. If you do get a sore throat, gargle with half a teaspoon of salt mixed with 1 cup of warm water, four times per day.
Steam: Boil a pot of water on the stove and then slowly breathe in the steam. Be careful as steam can cause burns. If the steam makes your nasal passages burn, pull your head back slightly and breathe in more slowly.
Apart from these remedies, following the below tips will also help you deal with flu symptoms:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially warmer fluids
- Eat a protein with each meal and snack
- Season your food with garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper
- Increase your vegetable and fruit intake
- Drink lots of green tea