Almost a decade after the outbreak of plague in certain remote villages of Himachal Pradesh,the dreaded disease has caught the attention of the researchers who are now studying its causes.
In a study project granted by the Indian Council of Medical Research(ICMR) for a period of two years,principal investigator Dr Sonu Goel,assistant professor,Department of Community Medicine,PGIMER and Dr Amarjeet Singh,professor in the same department,along with a team of microbiologists,anthropologists,are investigating socio-epidemiological factors related to the 2002 plague outbreak.
Dr Sonu Goel,who first thought of conducting a study while he was still a medical student,says,After the outbreak at first nobody believed that it was actually plague and then there were all kinds of theories behind its reasons. Was the rodent population in deep forests responsible for it or the presence of certain antigens in the environment or was it eating habits of certain communities? While there is no documented study to know the causes,there is a trend witnessed in the entire country in the last three decades and we found that the disease recurs every eight to 10 years.
The group has already completed one year of the study has conducted in depth interviews and focused group interviews with about 150 locals residing in areas around the Hatkoti region which also includes families of the 2002 plague victims,villagers,priests,health workers,medical officers etc.
The team has also interviewed the medical officers who were posted in the region in 2002 to know their diagnosis.
This year,the team plans to visit Maharashtra,Surat and Tamil Nadu where plague outbreaks have happened over the past three decades to study the environmental,socio-epidemiological factors to draw conclusions from the study.
As a part of the study,the team has visited these areas over six times in the last one year and spoken to families earlier victims and villagers who were present at the time of the outbreak.
The experts are attempting to explain the sylvatic cycle of plague bacilli transmission in areas around Hatkoti region of Himachal Pradesh through this study.
They observed that the people of Himachal Pradesh earn their livelihood from agriculture,mainly apple orchards. The agricultural area of villages in Himachal Pradesh is attached to forest and for adventurous expeditions,they would often go hunting in deep forests and live together for days to hunt down the prey. So a possible cause of the plague could be wild rodents.