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Doctor finger at late disease detection

Nandita Basu and Shyamalendu Chatterjee at the seminar. (Bishwarup Dutta)

Aug. 22: The director of the government-run School of Tropical Medicine today said many Japanese encephalitis patients were brought to hospitals in the last stage and added that early detection was a must in treatment of the disease.

A government doctor in north Bengal, where a Japanese encephalitis outbreak has killed many people, said “no concerted effort” was made to carry out an awareness drive.

Nandita Basu, the School of Tropical Medicine director, said during an audio-visual presentation titled Small Bite, Big Threat, which was part of the seminar — Epidemiology of Japanese Encephalitis — organised by the Indian Medical Association in Calcutta: “Early detection and treatment is a must for Japanese encephalitis. But by the time the patients went to hospitals, it was often the last stage and they could not be saved.”

Yesterday, the Bengal government submitted an affidavit in Calcutta High Court, mentioning that 45 people had died of Japanese encephalitis between January 1 and August 15. Director of health services Biswaranjan Sathpathy had said yesterday that 172 people had died of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome in north Bengal in addition to the Japanese encephalitis deaths.

A doctor posted in Jalpaiguri, the district worst affected by the Japanese encephalitis outbreak, said today: “No concerted effort was made to carry out an awareness drive among people and doctors in the region this year.”

The doctor said people in rural areas were not informed about measures to prevent Japanese encephalitis.

“The Centre had provided funds to Bengal to carry out campaigns to prevent the outbreak of vector-borne diseases such as Japanese encephalitis and malaria. The state, however, could not spend the entire amount in the last fiscal, which includes the first quarter of this calendar year,” the doctor added.

The Telegraph had reported last month that the government had not distributed medicated mosquito nets for the past two years. No step was taken to clear accumulated water from swamps and agricultural fields in villages, where the death rate is high, even after the Japanese encephalitis outbreak.

There is no medicine for Japanese encephalitis but early symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea and vomiting have to be treated as soon as possible.

Basu, the School of Tropical Medicine director, said: “Anyone from an affected region going to a health centre with any of these symptoms should have been treated as a Japanese encephalitis patient and sent to hospital straightaway.”

According to Shyamalendu Chatterjee, the principal investigator at the virus unit of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said at the seminar that the symptoms needed to be treated.

“If the symptoms are controlled, the defence system of the body gets time to produce antibodies against the virus,” he said.

Doctors said many Japanese encephalitis patients in north Bengal were brought to hospitals in the last stage, when they had started suffering from mental impairment, increased deep tendon reflexes and epilepsy.

“When there is an outbreak… it is absolute madness. People should be sensitised throughout the year about the disease if we want them to react as they should in the time of the actual crisis,” Basu said.

Swasthya Bhavan today reissued an order to all government hospital and health centres, asking them to send to its laboratories for Japanese encephalitis tests blood samples of only those patients who have shown symptoms typical of the disease.