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Pune run as virus name eludes

Siliguri, July 28: A senior health official today said that as the maximum patients who had died had tested negative for Japanese Encephalitis, the state had sent some blood samples to Pune’s National Institute of Virology to determine what had killed them.

This move has come almost a month after deaths from suspected Japanese Encephalitis peaked in north Bengal.

Doctors in the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital said that the institute, which is treating the most cases of the viral outbreak does not have the expertise or laboratory wherewithal to test for an enterovirus or any other kind of viral infection.

The Pune virology institute had suggested last week that some of the deaths that were being classified as Acute Encephalitis Syndrome could be because of a water-borne virus or enterovirus, not the result of a vector-propagated outbreak.

The treatment in both cases is symptomatic but if the source of the virus is known, prevention of a future outbreak would become easier.

So far, all the preventive efforts — like segregating pigs and killing mosquito larvae — have been done assuming that the main cause of deaths is Japanese Encephalitis. If that is not so, the public health drives would need to refocus on new ways of prevention, which is now one month late.

Of the 111 deaths that have been declared by director of health services B.S. Satpathy, 24 are from Japanese Encephalitis. The other 87 deaths have been attributed to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome.

Acute Encephalitis Syndrome or AES is an umbrella term that represents a basket of possibilities. A person said to be a patient of AES could be suffering from any other virus attack but as the symptoms are similar, it can complicate diagnosis.

Detection of Japanese Encephalitis using medical kits takes a few hours.

Satpathy said today: “We are conducting JE tests on all the samples of patients in NBMCH. It is because these tests are being conducted that we are able to categorise these deaths as JE and non-JE.”

A senior NBMCH doctor, who did not want to be named, as he is not authorised to speak on the matter, said: “Going by what the director of health services has said, it is evident that these 87 people tested JE-negative. This is why the officials are concerned as the virus… is yet to be traced.”

Satpathy and Sushanta Banerjee, the director of medical education, said samples were being sent to the NIV lab in Pune to detect the virus.

Satpathy said: “The NIV team that was here collected 24 samples. Of that, 14 were collected during field visits and 10 indoors (from NBMCH and other hospitals). Till now, they have informed us that seven of the 24 samples tested positive for Japanese Encephalitis. They have not informed us about detection of any other virus or enterovirus yet.”

In NBMCH, one more death was reported today, but Satpathy refused to confirm it, saying he had not been informed. Sources in NBMCH said Dukru Burman, 32, of Kaliaganj in North Dinajpur, died today.

“I do not have any reports of fresh deaths at NBMCH. However, six new patients were admitted to NBMCH,” Satpathy said today.

Scientists from NIV confirmed that the second batch of samples was sent to Pune today. They did not say how many samples were sent.

Gherao push

North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb on Monday advised a resident to “gherao” the Pareshnagar ward councillor’s house to protest the lack of civic services.

Deb’s advice was to a lady in ward 43 where Deb was sprinkling bleaching powder with party workers. Deb told the lady who criticised him: “First gherao the councillor, then come to me.”

The councillor of ward 43 is CPM’s Ragini Singh, who filed a police complaint later and said Deb had tried to incite the people of her ward.