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Chikungunya, after 44 years

Calcutta, Aug. 6: Chikungunya, a fever that causes intense joint ache, has struck Calcutta after 44 years.

The usually non-fatal viral disease, caused by mosquito bites, was detected in North 24-Parganas last October. Now the virus has been found in three of five blood samples collected from central Calcutta and Beliaghata.

Health department sources said that 31 samples, collected from Calcutta and Habra in North 24-Parganas, had been sent to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Calcutta, for the chikungunya test.

“Altogether 26 samples, including three from Calcutta, tested positive,” an official said today. “We received the reports this evening.”

Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya said the information hadn’t reached him. Chikungunya, spread by the bites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, was detected in 15-odd villages in North 24-Parganas’ Baduria and Swarupnagar last year.

This year, some 500 people in Habra’s wards 13 and 16 and their neighbourhoods have been showing the symptoms for over a month. But none needed to be admitted to hospital.

Other than joint pain, headache and fever, patients often develop rashes on their limbs. Young adults usually take five to 15 days to recover while the elderly can take months. Only rarely do people die.

But when chikungunya had struck Calcutta in 1963, some 200 people are said to have died. Tens of thousands were taken ill and many of the cases were haemorrhagic (accompanied with bleeding), the ICMR Journal’s May 1980 issue says.

“Usually, chikungunya doesn’t kill,” an expert said. “Those deaths may have been caused by an accompanying infection by, say, the dengue virus.”

There is no vaccine or specific treatment, but the anti-malaria drug chloroquine has been known to provide relief. The state has procured Elisa kits that can confirm chikungunya in two days.

The precautions are the same as those for malaria, aimed at avoiding mosquito bites. In North 24-Parganas’ affected areas, Red Cross teams have begun a drive to destroy mosquito larvae, and people have been asked to prevent accumulation of fresh water.

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