- by Gary Finnegan
Dengue in Mumbai: ‘Now I know why it’s called breakbone fever’
Down with dengue in Mumbai
When Gayatri Rangachari Shah was bitten by a mosquito she knew she was at risk of dengue fever. Soon she began to feel weak and in pain. It wasn’t long before she was in hospital.
Residents have become accustomed to outbreaks of dengue in Mumbai. Hundreds of cases have been recorded in the Indian mega-city during the monsoon season, despite efforts to clear mosquito breeding sites.
For Gayatri Rangachair Shah, a well-traveled journalist, the dangers of dengue have been lurking in the background since she moved to Mumbai. A contributing editor at Vogue India and Vice President, India at Women in the World, and CNN contributor, she has lived in Islamabad, Algiers, London, New Delhi, Boston and New York.
Dengue doesn’t fit into Gayatri’s hectic schedule but when she first noticed symptoms, she was already preparing for the worst. ‘I came down with a fever and body ache,’ she recalls. ‘I didn’t know for sure that I had dengue but I did recall being bitten by a mosquito and I thought perhaps it could be dengue given the widespread reporting of dengue in Mumbai, where I live.’
As time wore on, the symptoms worsened. How did it feel when she was in the grip of dengue fever? ‘Ugh. In a word, wretched. Ghastly and draining,’ Gayatri says. ‘I know why they call it breakbone fever.’
It felt like her insides were ‘aching and breaking’, with severe pain in her back. ‘I had no energy and was super weak, which is contrary to whom I am,’ says Gayatri – an energetic and very fit person who exercises six days a week.
A blood test came back positive for dengue fever and she was advised to stay home and hydrate. However, after a few more days of misery, Gayatri checked into hospital where she was put on a saline drip. He platelet count had dipped dramatically and doctors wanted to be sure she would pull through. She also used several natural remedies including coconut water, lime juice, papaya leaf just and plenty of water.
It took four days to shake off the fever and 10 days of rest to recover fully. Two weeks later, Gayatri was on a flight to London and was feeling fine again.
She says she has many friends who suffered the same fate – some of whom have had dengue multiple times. These days she takes every precaution to avoid mosquito bites, even though it can mean wearing long-sleeves in the Mumbai heat. She also burns dhoop – a kind of incense popular in India – and ensures that her home is fumigated regularly.
‘I spray myself like a maniac and try to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts – which is not easy in hot and humid Mumbai,’ she explains. ‘Basically, I just use mosquito repellent and when I see a mosquito, I flee!’
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