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Outbreaks of Mosquito-Borne Diseases Hit India

India is struggling to cope with outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases that have killed more than 100 people and infected thousands of others in recent weeks.

Overburdened hospitals and clinics in several cities in the north of India are scrambling to treat thousands of patients admitted in recent days with symptoms of high fever and severe body aches.

Most of them have been stricken with the mosquito-borne disease, dengue fever, which can be fatal.

The disease usually surfaces after the annual monsoon season ends in September and leaves behind pools of stagnant water that become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. But the increase in cases this year in such places as the capital New Delhi has raised concerns.

India's health minister Anbumani Ramadoss met with health officials from northern states affected by the disease. He is asking people not to panic, saying hospitals are well-equipped to treat dengue fever. He says the disease has claimed 38 victims so far - 15 of them in New Delhi.

Ramadoss says a construction boom in New Delhi is partly responsible for the outbreak, as stagnant water is collecting in pits at massive construction sites across the city. He also calls for greater public awareness about the need for better sanitation.

"Dengue is primarily a sanitation problem, secondary a health problem. Because of [a lack of] sanitation, hygiene, and lot of construction activities have been happening," he said. "It is not only a government responsibility, but individual, collective responsibility, a household responsibility of the public."

Municipal workers have fanned out across New Delhi to spray insecticide and clean up pools of stagnant water. Children have been advised to wear long-sleeved clothing to school.

Local media reports say members of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's family may be among those hit, with two of his grandsons and a son-in-law hospitalized in New Delhi with dengue-like symptoms.

Even as the north of the country worries about dengue fever, the southern state of Kerala is battling with another disease that has killed more than 70 people and affected thousands of others. Local authorities believe a rare mosquito-borne virus, which causes a disease known as chikungunya, is sweeping the region.

A joint team of experts from the World Health Organization and the federal government is traveling to the state to verify the cause of the outbreak.

"There are some questions of is this chikungunya or is this not?" said Harsaran Pandey, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization in New Delhi. "Because normally chikungunya seems not to result in death, but you have had several deaths here ... so they will try and ascertain for themselves what exactly is the situation."

The health minister has assured people that the federal government and state governments are stepping up efforts to control the spread of the diseases.