India needs a dengue surveillance system

India needs a permanent dengue surveillance system. Copyright: United States Department of Agriculture

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India urgently needs a permanent dengue surveillance system to monitor and control a mosquito-borne viral disease that defies easy study.

Population rise, unplanned urbanisation, poor vector control, viral evolution and international travel have turned dengue into a major global infectious disease with 50–100 million cases and 3.6 billion people at risk.

Complications arise from the fact that the number of dengue cases in an affected area may be limited. Few vectors, (Aedes aegypti or A. albopictus) mosquitoes may be found infected with the virus, limiting the scope for epidemiological and transmission studies. 

The presence of dengue vectors and antibodies to the virus in a community does not necessarily reflect on re-emergence of dengue in an area. Domestic animals such as cats, rats, dogs, cows, buffaloes and goats may serve as ‘hidden reservoirs’ for the virus, as also sylvan monkeys.

In such a situation, a ‘DengueNet-India surveillance system can help track the spread of the virus and provide a better understanding of the interactions between mosquitoes, different strains of the dengue virus, animals and humans.

Existing technologies such as geographical information systems, polymerase chain reaction, rapid antigen tests, genetic sequencing and bioinformatics can be harnessed to provide a holistic approach to suppress dengue resurgence, in collaboration with the WHO’s DengueNet. 

Databases could be continuously updated and the reporting of dengue cases from India’s existing network of institutions and laboratories standardised, with a view to predicting epidemics and reducing fatality rates.

Link to opinion in March 2012 issue of Current Science: