New Delhi's top health official on Friday blamed preparations for next month's Commonwealth Games for an outbreak of dengue fever that has caused concern among nations participating in the event.
"Games projects have been delayed and as a result the diggings carried out have turned into mosquito breeding grounds," V.K. Monga, chairman of Delhi Municipal Corporation's health committee, told AFP.
"This is not the right season for the Games because dengue is highest at this time of the year," he said, as the official number of cases in the Indian capital rose to 1,580 since July.
Doctors and hospital staff say the figure is a major underestimate.
Much of central Delhi has resembled a building site in recent months, with dug-up pavements, unfinished metro stations and muddy construction work at venues being hurriedly completed for the event, which opens on October 3.
Monga said the dengue outbreak, the worst since 2006, had been exacerbated by the heaviest monsoon rains in 15 years.
"The main area of our focus is now the athletes' village because of its location near the Yamuna river, which makes it difficult for anti-dengue spraying," he said.
Sujatha Rao, the top civil servant in India's health ministry, said Friday that public health teams were at work to keep the village clear of dengue-carrying mosquitoes.
Stagnant water around the village "is a challenge to us", she conceded, but she insisted there would be no risk to athletes and team officials, who will begin arriving on September 16.
"The results of our efforts will kick in before the Games," she told reporters at a press conference.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) however warned Delhi that the dengue outbreak was likely to get worse in the coming weeks.
"September and October are the critical period," said Chusak Prasittisuk, WHO's communicable diseases coordinator for southeast Asia, adding that the outbreak could "peak around early October".
Dengue, which is transmitted to humans by female Aedes mosquitoes, causes a flu-like illness for most victims. One strain of it can cause internal bleeding. Four people have died of dengue in Delhi this year.
The Australian high commissioner (ambassador) to India, Peter Varghese, said Thursday that a travel advisory about the dengue fever outbreak had been issued, but stressed it would not deter athletes from travelling to Delhi.
More than 420 people were killed and 10,250 hospitalised in the city's biggest dengue outbreak in 1996, according to government data.