Calcutta, Aug. 24: A 15-year-old boy from a village barely 2km from the Metro Cash & Carry outlet on EM Bypass has been diagnosed with Japanese encephalitis, prompting questions if the virus has reached the city.
The boy is on a ventilator at the School of Tropical Medicine (STM), Calcutta. His family said he had not left the city’s neighbourhood in four years and was therefore likely to have caught the infection at home in Sonarpur’s Shantipally village, near the EM Bypass-Kalikapur crossing.
Japanese encephalitis (JE) has killed 45 people in north Bengal this year.
“The boy has tested positive for JE. His condition is critical,” said Pradip Kundu, medical superintendent, School of Tropical Medicine (STM).
Health department officials said a few JE patients had been detected in and around Calcutta earlier too but each had been found to have visited some JE-affected area recently.
“If it’s confirmed this boy had not stepped out of the city, it’ll confirm the presence near Calcutta of mosquitoes from those species that cause the disease,” a health official said.
“We are checking whether he had travelled to affected areas in another state,” said state director of health services Biswa Ranjan Satpathy.
The boy’s mother was categorical: “He never left Calcutta in the past four years.”
The family has been living in the state for the past 10 years. The rickshaw-puller’s son was admitted to the STM on August 22 after testing positive for JE.
Paddy fields extend from Kalikapur, off EM Bypass, to within 1.5km of Shantipally. Pigs roam in Hussainpur, hardly 1km from the village.
“Japanese encephalitis is essentially a rural disease but can strike in urban and semi-urban areas where there are paddy fields,” said an Indian Council of Medical Research virologist.
Pigs and migratory water birds that come to the paddy fields are the hosts of the virus, which spreads through mosquito bites. “These mosquitoes can fly distances up to 4-5km,” said Nandita Basu, the STM director.
“Pigs often enter our village,” said Shantipally resident Bipul Howladar.
On July 26, the civic body and city police had started a joint operation to catch pigs and relocate them to a shelter in Bantala. But after relocating just 258 pigs, the civic body recently decided to return them to their owners though this hasn’t been done yet.
Tarun Roy, South 24-Parganas zilla parishad member in charge of health, said steps were being taken to free the area of pigs.
Health department officials said they were surveying the village and collecting blood samples of people with fever. “Extensive fogging (with anti-mosquito solutions) will be done,” state health secretary Moloy De said. Experts advocated a survey of Culex mosquitoes.