With 135 people succumbing to Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in West Bengal, experts have termed it “one of the worst outbreaks” of the killer disease in the state in the last two decades. Virology experts said at least 70 per cent of the total number of cases reported with acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) have been tested positive for JE. The state government, however, is still struggling to supply adequate number of JE testing kits to several government hospitals in North Bengal and to the JE testing centres.
Professor Dr Nemai Bhattacharya, unit in charge of the virology department at the Calcutta School of Tropical medicine (STM) said that the situation in North Bengal is “alarming” and “it is the case of biggest outbreak of JE and not Acute Encephalitis Syndrome”.
Bhattacharya led teams from STM which visited North Bengal twice and collected samples of blood and cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) from the patients admitted at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital.
“I visited NBMCH in July as the state government directed us to conduct an investigation. I have no doubt that this is an alarming situation. This is the biggest outbreak of JE in the last two decades in the state. I had given my opinion to the doctors and experts at that time. There were certain reports given by the doctors in North Bengal saying these are the cases of AES. But we, after testing the samples, can confirm that most of the cases are of JE, and not AES,” said Bhattacharya.
He further added that the report submitted by the testing centres in NBMCH stated that 25 per cent of the total samples were tested positive for JE, however, the JE testing centre of the virology department in STM has detected at least 70 per cent of the total samples as JE positive. ? “We visited North Bengal twice and collected samples of blood and CSF. At least 60 per cent of the total CSF samples tested positive for JE while at least 75 per cent of the total blood samples tested positive for JE,” said Bhattcharya.
According to Bhattacharya, the experts from National Institute of Virology, Pune, have also agreed with him after testing several samples they collected from Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts. The experts from several national institutes also discussed the necessity of starting vaccination programme at this stage. However, Bhattacharya said that starting vaccination programme at this stage might turn “catastrophic” as there are chances of “failure of vaccine”.
Meanwhile, there is crisis of testing kits too. The supply from NIV, Pune, is inadequate at this situation, said a senior official of the health department. The STM in Kolkata is now conducting tests on at least 45 to 50 samples every day, though, most of the patients are reaching hospital due to panic, said the official.
“No fresh deaths nor any new cases of encephalitis were reported in the state in the last 24 hours and the situation was gradually coming under control,” West Bengal Health Services Director Biswaranjan Satpathy said. He put the death toll caused by encephalitis and JE at 126 in the state, even though North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb had Thursday put the toll at 135.