The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Epidemic fever in Mumbai

Mumbai, Aug. 11: The high court had warned of it, residents are scared of it and the civic body is shy of it. It was left to the public health minister to spell it out: Epidemic.

After the rain, India’s financial capital is battling another killer. At least 66 people have died of suspected leptospirosis in Mumbai and Thane since the July 26 deluge. About 2,000 are in hospital with symptoms of infectious diseases, 447 of them wheeled into the wards today.

The symptoms are of leptospirosis, but only lab tests can confirm the disease.

“The situation is serious but under control. We have asked the municipal corporation of Mumbai and Kalyan-Dombivli to declare an epidemic under the Epidemic Act,” public health minister Dr Vimal Mundada told reporters around 4.30 pm, with medical education minister Dilip Walse-Patil by his side.

But three hours later, municipal commissioner Johny Joseph was still insisting that an epidemic had not been declared. “I haven’t been officially asked to do so by the government,” he said.

Joseph, though, did issue a circular declaring leptospirosis as a “notifiable” disease, which means every medical practitioner must report any case he comes across to the civic body.

Doctors said in private that there indeed is an epidemic sweeping across the city and the number of patients admitted to hospitals is much higher.

The medical education minister hinted that the numbers could get worse. “The disease has a gestation period (between catching the infection and showing the symptoms) of four to 21 days,” Walse-Patil said.

“So, people who waded through water on July 26-27 need to be careful and watch for symptoms of fever and vomiting in the next five days.”

Leptospirosis is caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans, which is transmitted to humans through the urine of rodents. The symptoms are fever, vomiting, severe body ache and redness of the eyes. The infection is contracted through cuts or wounds exposed to standing water.

Additional municipal commissioner Manoj Shrivastava provided the official statistics: 127 suspected leptospirosis cases in city hospitals, with 15 admitted today, 42 being treated for suspected dengue, 52 for typhoid, 179 for hepatitis, 1,223 for gastro-enteritis, and 341 for malaria.

But a senior colleague, who didn’t want to be named, thought the number of leptospirosis patients is probably higher. “Some 447 people have been admitted with fever which could be leptospirosis or dengue. That’s a sharp rise in the number of patients.”

A doctor at the Lokmanya Tilak Medical College in Sion said 12 patients had died there from infection since the rain. “There are 350 admitted with water-related diseases alone,” he said. “It’s an epidemic.”

Dr Subhash Salunkhe, director-general of state health services, defined an epidemic to reporters as a “sharp and above-normal increase” in the occurrence of an illness in a particular locality.

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