NRIs round the world are planning their trips to India these days as Diwali and Eid festivals approach. Hardly any plane seats are available to fly to India during this annual festive season rush that lasts beyond New Year's Day.
But this year, there is a problem. Here is an e-mail I got a few days ago from Meera in Nairobi: 'Dear uncle, we have seen the news about dengue fever. Please give us your opinion about it. We are a bit concerned as we are supposed to come there around 16th for two weeks. We will be in Delhi most of the time but we were also considering going somewhere close by with the kids for a few days. Some family and friends here are telling us that we should not come at all. Look forward to hearing from you. Meera.'
Thousands of NRIs all over the world share her dilemma with the 24-hour cable TV bringing the news of dengue fever right into their drawing rooms while they were busy planning their trip to India. Overseas newspapers have also carried reports on dengue along with chikungunya, another infectious fever. While 46 have died of dengue in Delhi and other parts of India, over 3,300 have been infected. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's son-in-law and two grandsons were also admitted to a hospital as patients but they have now recovered.
Dengue became 'breaking news' when India's premier medical institution, medical college and hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, was overrun by it. A medical student died as more dengue cases emerged and the institute's mosquito breeding grounds were televised.
Chikungunya was termed an epidemic by the director of India's National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme after 81 people died of suspected chikungunya in Kerala. This year, a more virulent strain of chikungunya has hit India from Madagascar, an island off the East African coast, and affected Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. A Swahili word, chikungunya means 'that which bends up', describing the stooped posture of the patient due to severe joint pain and fever.
So the north reels under dengue and the south under chikungunya. True? Not really! Blame it on the media, as India's health minister did by saying that although the fever was present, it was not alarming. While the media has spread awareness about it, the situation is not critical. Without blaming the media, if one considers the overall figures of the victims and the infected and compares them to the total population, one can easily conclude that only a tiny fraction of the people is suffering from these two diseases. This means that your chances of suffering from them are not that high. But NRIs, especially those who have lived in temperate climates for a long time, have a lower resistance to tropical diseases.
October is generally the month for fevers. The summer is over and mosquitoes breed in ponds, gutters and trays of coolers and air conditioners as the temperatures stay high. In fact, summer is still supreme in Delhi with temperature at 37 degrees centigrade.
So what should Meera - and many more NRIs - do? Postpone their trip to India or not?
If you must come, then be prepared to take some basic precautions. Since the dengue mosquito bites only during daytime, always wear full-sleeve shirts and long trousers to fully cover your arms and legs. To protect your feet, wear socks and shoes - not sandals. Avoid wearing tight clothing since the mosquito can bite through tight clothes but not through loose ones. Be alert that your hotel, home and work areas don't have standing or stagnant water and no mosquito breeding areas. If you d