Dengue can seriously affect brain, nervous system: Doctors

Dengue can seriously affect brain, nervous system: Doctors

New Delhi: Although dengue is known to cause mild flu-like symptoms, the mosquito-borne viral illness has profound neurological implications that are often overlooked, said experts on Tuesday.

Amid the monsoon in India, dengue cases have spiralled in various parts of the country, including Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Delhi and Maharashtra.

According to the latest data from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), there have been 246 dengue cases in the national capital till June 30 this year. During the same period in 2023, Delhi saw only 122 cases, 143 cases in 2022, 36 cases in 2021, and 20 cases in 2020.

“While primarily known for causing flu-like symptoms, dengue has profound neurological implications that are often overlooked,” Dr Praveen Gupta, Principal Director & Chief of Neurology at Fortis Hospital Gurugram, told IWP.

“Neurological manifestations of dengue, though less common, include encephalitis, meningitis, and myelitis. These conditions arise from the virus crossing the blood-brain barrier, leading to inflammation and infection of the brain and spinal cord,” he explained. Patients with severe dengue may experience headaches, altered mental status, seizures, and even coma.

The virus’s neurotropic nature means it can directly infect neural cells, causing damage and inflammation. Furthermore, the immune response triggered by the infection can exacerbate these neurological issues, making management complex.

Dengue is a vector-borne disease transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. It is endemic to more than 100 countries and affects about 400 million people globally every year. Dengue fever escalates significantly during the monsoon season due to increased mosquito breeding.

During monsoon, stagnant water and higher humidity create ideal conditions for the Aedes mosquito to thrive, leading to a spike in dengue cases. 

“Dengue can affect many parts of the human body, including the nervous system. When it affects the nervous system, the presentation will be like a brain fever. Patients could have altered consciousness levels and difficulty in talking, stroke, seizures or fits and could have bleeding in the brain also due to low platelet counts,” Dr Srikantha Swamy, Lead Senior Consultant, Neurology, Aster RV Hospital Bengaluru, told IWP.

“As known, when platelets are low, it leads to bleeding in different parts of the body and could happen in the brain too. When platelets are low and a patient is diagnosed as dengue positive, then it affects the nervous system, and the progress is usually bad,” the doctor added.

The experts noted that the increased neurological complications of dengue during monsoon emphasise the need for early recognition and intervention. Healthcare systems must be vigilant in monitoring for signs of neurological involvement in dengue patients, particularly during peak transmission periods.

Preventative measures, such as mosquito control and public awareness campaigns, are crucial to mitigating the impact of dengue on neurological health during the monsoon season.