During the epidemic in 2006, most doctors did not even know how to spell chikungunya. Nine years on, the US has made it a notifiable disease while India continues to lag behind in proper detection of the virus.
In Pune, what has raised concerns is the increase in number of chikungunya cases during the winter months, which is unusual.
According to a Pune Municipal Corporation report, nine new chikungunya cases were detected on Wednesday, pushing up the number to 12 since January 1 this year.
At B J Medical College, Dr Renu Bharadwaj, head of the department of microbiology, says they got 49 samples in December last year from Pune and surrounding areas while the number of infections detected were as high as 66 in November.
In October too, there were 47 cases, Dr Bharadwaj says.
Last week, a doctor from Pune was infected with the virus whose symptoms can be severe and disabling.
Dr Kanchan Jagtap, joint director at the state’s health department, concedes cases have been high in both 2014 and 2015.
According to Jagtap, of the 181 cases across the state last year, 66 chikungunya cases, the highest number, were reported from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) areas and nearly 100-odd cases from rural areas of the state.
Vector for both chikugunya and dengue viruses were the same aedes aegypti mosquito, Jagtap says, adding that they were taking measures to deal with both.
In 2005-06, chikungunya hit several islands in the Indian Ocean and spread through India and Southeast Asia, where it lingers even today. In 2013-14, the virus is said to have found its way to the Caribbean and Florida.
In July 2015, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health claimed to have found new evidence that an extremely high number of people in South India were exposed to dengue and chikungunya.
However, the extent of problem has been underestimated here, according to Dr Arvind Chopra, director and chief rheumatologist at the Center for Rheumatic Diseases in Pune, who has been tracking this disease. “Chikungunya is a very close mimic of rheumatoid arthritis. Some patients develop persistent aches and pains that can easily be confused with arthritis. Arthritis caused by chikungunya can be challenging,” Chopra told The Indian Express.
“At the height of winter in the last week of December, I had five chikungunya patients from Pune,” he said.
“While the most common symptoms chikungunya are fever and joint pain, the disease does not result in death, but there is a great deal of morbidity,” Dr Rajesh Gadia, chief consultant at KEM hospital, says adding that the joint pain may persist for months.
Dr Subash Salunke, head of state’s expert committee on communicable diseases, too has in his interim report observed that there was a need to tackle the mosquitoes causing both dengue and chikungunya. “We have seen a rise in the cases, and more so from Pune itself.”