Monday December 05, 2022

Mysterious virus spreading in Karachi causing dengue-like symptoms: experts

Health expert says it could be another virus from the family of ‘Arboviruses’, causing diseases like dengue fever

November 12, 2021
A representative image.
A representative image.

Cases of ‘mysterious viral fever’ are being witnessed in Karachi that behaves exactly like dengue fever as it reduces platelets and white blood cells of the patients, but when tested for dengue, the result comes out to be negative, clinicians and pathologist told The News on Thursday.

“For a couple of weeks, we are seeing cases of a viral fever, in which platelets and white blood cells are dropping while other clinical symptoms are also similar to the dengue fever. But when NS1 antigen of these patients is performed, their tests come out to be negative,” Prof Saeed Khan, head of molecular pathology at the Dow University of Health Sciences, said.

Other experts, including physicians and hemato-pathologists from different hospitals of the city, have also confirmed that a dengue virus like pathogen is circulating in Karachi, causing a disease which is acting similar to dengue fever and requires the same treatment protocols but it is not dengue fever.

Owing the high prevalence of dengue fever and the mysterious virus, hospitals and blood banks across Karachi are facing an acute shortage of mega units and random units of platelets, clinicians said, as they advised people to take precautionary measures to prevent themselves from vector-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria.

Commenting on the mysterious virus, Prof Khan said it could be another virus from the family of ‘Arboviruses’, causing diseases like dengue fever. “We have even performed the PCR test to see if it is dengue virus but it is not the dengue virus. It is not Zika virus because Zika virus behaves differently. There is also little chances of this virus being any unknown variant of the dengue virus,” the expert remarked. He said the varsity had started a study on the new virus.

A molecular scientist, Dr Muhammad Zohaib, who is associated with the Children’s Hospital in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, also confirmed that cases of viral fever, which was not dengue but had dengue-like symptoms, had been witnessed by them as well as several other pathologists in the city.

“Owing to this mysterious viral disease in addition to growing number of dengue fever cases, there is an extreme shortage of mega units of platelets as well as random units in the city. People are moving from pillar to post for mega units and random platelets units for their loved ones,” he said.

Dr Zeeshan Hussain, a senior hemato-pathologist associated with a public sector health facility, said that fortunately, the mysterious viral fever resembling dengue had so far not resulted in any death. He added that they were treating patients infected with this virus as if they had contracted dengue.

“So far, this virus has not caused haemorrhagic fever by reducing platelets of a patient where bleeding starts. Most of the patients infected with this unknown virus are responding to conventional treatment,” Dr Hussain added.

When Dr Faisal Mehmood, infectious disease expert at the Aga Khan University Hospital, was asked about the mysterious virus, he replied there could be another virus circulating in Karachi’s environment behaving like dengue virus. However, he added that he had not observed any such case in his practice.

Hematologist and physician Dr Saqib Ansari, however, said that the phenomenon of people having dengue symptoms testing negative for dengue was not new in Karachi. He maintained that such cases were being witnessed since 2008. He called for more research before reaching to any conclusion.

“I have seen cases where patients were dropping platelets while their SGPT was also on the rise and they had classic symptoms of dengue fever but their dengue test came out negative. There is a possibility that false negative results are being reported so there is a need for more research in this regard,” Dr Ansari said.