The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Polls get death zone a look
- Experts rush after malaise claims 23 lives in 8 months

Burdwan, April 20: A mystery fever has caused deaths in a small village in Burdwan district since September last year, but nobody cared until today, when it threatened to become an election issue.

Experts rushed today to Mukundapur village, about 165 km from Calcutta, to make an on-the-spot investigation after politicians tried to derive political mileage from the deaths.

The village, inhabited by 302 tribals, has no primary health centre. Villagers have to travel all the way to the Bhatar primary health centre for treatment, officials say.

By the latest count, 23 lives have been lost, district magistrate Subrata Gupta said this evening. The last death occurred on Saturday.

Gupta said blood samples are being collected to determine the cause of death.

“We are yet to confirm whether it is kala azar or any other disease. More specialists are being sent to the village tomorrow for further investigations,” he added.

State health secretary K.K. Bagchi said in Calcutta tonight that the administration had heard of the deaths. “We have sent experts to the village to collect blood samples and ascertain the reason behind the disease,” he said.

CPM Bhatar MLA Subhas Mondal heard of the deaths while campaigning for his colleague Nikhilananda Sar.

He took up the matter immediately with block development officer Arindam Das and panchayat functionaries. The MLA brought the deaths to the district administration’s notice as well.

The administration then sent a team of experts to the village and arranged for DDT to be sprayed. Another team, led by Santosh Kumar Sarengi, chief medical officer (health), will visit the village tomorrow.

Mukundapur residents Ricsaw Maddi, 40, and Mangal Chandi Hembram, 45, told Mondal: “The unknown disease has been claiming lives over the last eight months, but the administration didn’t bother.” They said they were forced to complain to him when the situation worsened in the past week.

Primary findings suggest the disease could be a waterborne viral infection or caused by consuming poisonous liquor brewed locally. The main symptoms are high fever, swelling and severe pain in the abdomen.

The deaths have sent villagers scurrying to local witch doctors for help.

Mondal today said: “We have prepared a list of 23 persons who have died of the disease since September. Tomorrow it will be handed over to the administration.”

Medical officer Sarengi appeared to rule out water contamination. “More blood samples will be collected tomorrow. We doubt that water contamination may be a cause,” he said.

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