Doctors warn of dengue’s severe impact on the brain and nervous system as cases surge across India | Health News

As dengue cases across India soar, including in cities like Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Delhi and Maharashtra, it has prompted health professionals to raise alarm about a lesser-known but potentially devastating aspect of the disease. 

While dengue is commonly associated with fever, body aches, and fatigue, medical experts are now emphasising its ability to severely impact the brain and nervous system. This adds a new layer of urgency to dengue prevention and treatment efforts, as the neurological complications can lead to long-lasting effects or even be life-threatening.

Understanding the neurological effects of this disease 

Dr Palleti Siva Karthik Reddy, MBBS,MD General Medicine, consultant physician, agrees, “Beyond the well-known symptoms of fever, pain, and rash, dengue can unleash a cascade of neurological effects. The dengue virus is neurotropic, meaning it has an affinity for the nervous system. It can breach the blood-brain barrier, a protective shield that usually keeps pathogens out of the brain.” 

Once inside, it wreaks havoc by:

Directly Infecting Neurons: The virus invades and damages nerve cells, disrupting their function and communication.

Triggering Inflammation: The body’s immune response to the virus can cause inflammation within the brain and spinal cord, further damaging tissue.

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Causing Bleeding: In severe cases, dengue can lead to thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), increasing the risk of bleeding within the brain (haemorrhage).

Doctors are increasingly recognising these neurological manifestations as a significant concern, Dr Reddy says, especially in severe dengue cases. “Their observations, supported by scientific research, paint a complex picture of the virus’s impact on the brain and underscore the need for heightened awareness and vigilant monitoring.”

dengue, India The virus invades and damages nerve cells, disrupting their function and communication. (Source: Freepik)

Early warning signs of neurological impact

While dengue often presents with classic symptoms like fever and muscle pain, neurological involvement may manifest with a range of subtle and alarming signs, according to Dr Reddy:

Severe Headache: Often described as persistent, throbbing, and accompanied by neck stiffness, this could signal meningitis or encephalitis.

Altered Mental State: Confusion, disorientation, or difficulty concentrating could indicate brain dysfunction.

Seizures: Convulsions or uncontrolled muscle movements can be a sign of brain inflammation or damage.

Weakness or Numbness: These could point to nerve damage or spinal cord involvement.

Visual Changes: Blurred vision or other visual disturbances might indicate damage to the optic nerve or other visual pathways.

Preventive measures and treatments

Preventing dengue transmission is the most effective way to avoid neurological complications. Dr Reddy says that this involves:

Mosquito Control: Reducing mosquito populations through habitat elimination, insecticide spraying, and using mosquito nets and repellents.

Vaccination: A dengue vaccine has been developed and is being deployed in some countries, offering hope for reducing the burden of severe disease.

Dr Reddy asserts, “For those already infected, early diagnosis and supportive care are crucial. There’s no specific antiviral treatment for dengue, but managing symptoms like fever and pain is important. In severe cases, hospitalisation may be necessary for intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, and close monitoring for neurological complications.”


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