Suggestions that papaya extract can cure dengue fever appear to be overly optimistic. But several studies show that the leaves of the plant can help sufferers reverse some of the damage by dengue viruses.
There are at least two scientific studies, including one reported in May, that show extracts of Carica papaya leaves can increase the platelet count in the blood. Platelets are the clear, cell-like disks that circulate in the blood. They are responsible for clotting, among other functions.
The dengue virus appears to attack these components of the blood, which is where the term hemorrhagic fever originates. Those who have been infected in series by two different strains of the dengue virus can confront this sometimes fatal and bloody condition.
Humans have millions of these platelets in the blood stream. A scientific report form India said that a sharp decline in their numbers is good evidence for the presence of dengue fever. “A fall in platelet count prevents formation of clots – and this leads to hemorrhage – which results into both internal & external bleeding – once bleeding starts the situation is almost irrecoverable,” said the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science. Dengue is epidemic there.
The disease also is a big problem in Malaysia, which is why researcher Soobitha Subenthran conducted an experiment there with 288 patients. Half the patients received the juice of the papaya leaves for three days and half did not. The platelet count of those who got the juice was significantly higher than the control group after 40 and 48 hours of admission, he and his colleagues reported.
Dengue has made a startling comeback in Costa Rica this year, despite efforts at control.
There have been more than 30,000 patients, mainly on the coasts.
Medical treatment for sufferers is mainly providing fluids and transfusions, if necessary. Volunteers clean up the possible habitats of the dengue mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Medical reports also suggest that papaya extract has a negative effect on the malaria parasites, too. That is good for humans.
The Indian center noted that viral diseases have no cure, and that with dengue early diagnosis is important. A high fever, chills, aches in the joints and a rash are symptoms, but the center said that a blood count of platelets is the most accurate. It urged that blood tests be done of patients twice a day because a sharp drop in platelets can be fatal.
Before expats rush out to make papaya tea, they probably need some expert advice to make sure they have the correct plant. There also may be some medical benefits from the fruit of the papaya or lechosa. Both the names are used in Spanish, depending on the country.
At the very least, the fruit of the tree is a welcome addition to a salad.