Chikangunya, a relatively rare form of mosquito-transmitted viral fever, has assumed epidemic proportions in Madhya Pradesh with about two dozen dead and 50,000 infected in half a dozen districts, said health department officials.
About 35,000 people are suffering from the disease in Betul district alone where 12 people have died. Another 13 people have succumbed to the fever in Chhindwara. Sagar, Khargone and Burhanpur are the other areas affected.
The chikangunya virus is transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito and the government is taking "full precautions and teaching people how to prevent the spread of the disease", said Burhanpur Chief Medical Officer J.S. Awasiya.
Chikangunya's typical symptoms are high fever up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit with a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms, including severe headaches, chills, nausea, vomit and joint pain.
Most patients recover within three to five days though some can suffer from joint pain for months. Children may display neurological symptoms, said a doctor.
The spread of the disease, first reported in Maharashtra in 1965, is alarming as it can lead to an outbreak of the deadly dengue fever.
Chikangunya may have entered Madhya Pradesh two months ago through villages in Betul district bordering Maharashtra, officials said.
Admitting that Chhindwara, Badwani and Burhanpur were affected with the fever, state Health Minister Ajay Vishnoi said: "But the intensity of the disease is decreasing as the health department and district authorities are working round the clock to destroy the larvae of this mosquito. The situation is under control."
He said the government has is yet to confirm whether the deaths were due to chikangunya or some other viral fever.