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24x7 lab but doubt on use

Siliguri, July 29: A senior health department official today said laboratories in North Bengal Medical College and Hospital were working round the clock to test samples for suspected Japanese Encephalitis, but doctors in the hospital raised doubts whether a 24x7 operation would help anyone.

Some doctors also said that the microbiology laboratory that was testing for Japanese Encephalitis was being kept open only during daytime working hours. The central pathology laboratory that is testing other parameters of patients, not all of whom are suspected viral outbreak sufferers, was being kept open round the clock.

“The central pathology lab and microbiology lab have been working round the clock since yesterday for conducting tests on patients of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome,” Sushanta Banerjee, the state director of medical education, told journalists at NBMCH today.

The announcement has come after criticism of the government’s perceived laxness in the face of the viral outbreak in north Bengal.

Doctors who are not authorised to speak on the outbreak said on the condition of anonymity that each Japanese Encephalitis kit has 90 slots for blood samples.

“Until and unless they are filled up, it is not reasonable to conduct the examination,” a doctor of NBMCH said, as the empty slots in the kit would get wasted.

“So, we wait for enough samples to be accumulated in the kits before the tests are done. A kit takes time to get filled. So, there is no need to keep the microbiology laboratory open round the clock,” the doctor said.

Another doctor said even though the central pathology lab was functioning 24 hours since yesterday, it hardly helped in terms of treatment of patients.

“Tests for blood urea, blood sugar and tests on the central spinal fluid are also carried out on patients with Acute Encephalitis Syndrome. These tests are done at the central pathology laboratory. Its non-stop functioning hardly matters as only tests on general parameters are done there. It doesn’t help the treatment of patients,” the doctor said.

Two more persons died in NBMCH in the past 24 hours, taking the toll across north Bengal since January to 113. But NBMCH officials were reluctant to confirm the deaths officially as only the director of health services is authorised to speak on the death toll, confusion over which had led to red faces in the heath department last week and triggered the sacking of three officials.

Sources at NBMCH said the microbiology laboratory was well-equipped to conduct tests for chikungunya, malaria and dengue also.

“But the symptoms of these diseases are different from Japanese Encephalitis. So, the laboratory does only JE tests on samples collected from patients,” said a source.

Hospital sources said Rohima Khatun, 13, from Cooch Behar, and Sarojini Oraon, 28, of Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri had died.

Tests on neither had confirmed Japanese Encephalitis, so they were categorised as patients with Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES).

“Currently, there are 44 patients at NBMCH with AES and four of them are children. I haven’t received information about the death figure in the past 24 hours. The hospital is providing medicines to patients with AES and Japanese Encephalitis. The wards are being cleaned and drinking water, too, is being provided to patients,” Banerjee said today.

An NBMCH official said it couldn’t be said when reports of tests on around 170 samples would arrive from the National Institute of Virology, Pune.

The samples had been sent in two batches on Saturday and Monday.

The director of medical education said the Malda Medical College and Hospital would start tests to detect Japanese Encephalitis once the kits arrived from Calcutta.

The Telegraph had reported yesterday that the Malda facility lacked JE test kits and patients had been either referred to private clinics or medical colleges in Calcutta.

Banerjee said testing facilities would soon be started in the district hospitals of Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri.

Today, fever clinics were closed at NBMCH and the Siliguri district hospital for Id. The clinics had been opened a week ago in the out-patient departments of the respective hospitals for patients with symptoms of Japanese Encephalitis so that they would not have to stand in long queues at the OPD.

“The entire OPD section is closed today because of Id. However, the patients (with Japanese Encephalitis symptoms) were directly sent to the emergency wings of the hospitals,” Banerjee said.

In Malbazar, Jalpaiguri, around 25 health workers today did not take their Id leave and visited a few mosques instead to impart awareness on preventive steps against the viral outbreak.

“Today was a holiday for us. We didn’t take the holiday as there have been encephalitis deaths in Malbazar subdivision. We visited local mosques and addressed those who had gathered there for Id prayers, telling them about the outbreak,” said Pradyut Chanda, a health worker based in Nagrakata.

The health workers visited two mosques in Malbazar and one each at Nagrakata and Metelli.