Special teams from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and the health department visited Basanti Colony in Ultadanga Saturday after two persons, including a seven-year-old, reportedly died of Scrub Typhus disease in last one month. The KMC has also set up a medical camp in the area.
Scrub typhus is spread to people through bites of infected chiggers (larval mites). The most common symptoms of Scrub Typhus include fever, headache, body aches, tiredness and sometimes rash, said Dr Arindam Biswas. “What took me by surprise is that the disease surfaced in a metropolitan area. It is generally seen in rural areas. This is worrisome and alarming. The health department and the corporation must work hand in hand to ensure it doesn’t spread further,” he added.
While speaking to The Indian Express, local councilor Shanti Ranjan Kundu said, “I came to know about the disease during Kali Puja and since then we have been making all efforts to prevent it from spreading further. We are awaiting the blood reports of seven more people who have shown similar symptoms. Earlier three persons were diagnosed with this disease out of which two died.”
Outbreak of disease underscores need to keep city clean
Scrub typhus, caused by the bacterium Orientia tsutsugamushi is the latest vector-borne disease to hit West Bengal. While the government has been quick to react, a senior health official underlined the need to focus on the cleaning of garbage and waste management efforts across the state. “The work of the civic body should not be limited to buffing up areas that are already better managed, but must aim to keep slum areas clean. If the Corporation does its work well and proper hygiene is maintained across the city, such outbreaks can be prevented.” On the positive side, with the penalty for littering being raised by an amendment to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (Second Amendment) Act that was passed by the Assembly on Thursday, Kolkata can be expected to be cleaner city, and therefore, better protected against the spread of vector-borne diseases. The penalty for littering has been raised to between Rs 5,000 and Rs 1 lakh from the earlier Rs 50-5,000.
A senior health official, who didn’t wish to be identified, said, “It is caused not only by the chiggers found on grass but also by the tropical rat mite. As food and waste materials are littered all around, there are a large number of rats in the area which might have caused it.”
Besides the medical camp by the KMC, senior officials from Beliaghata ID Hospital have also been conducting an awareness campaign to ensure people are not misguided about the disease and proper treatment could be given to them. No single area has ever reported so many cases of Scrub Typhus at once in Kolkata.
Local MLA and Consumer Affairs Minister Sadhan Pandey visited the area along with special teams of KMC and the health department on Saturday. The team included Dr Dipankar Maji, executive medical officer of borough 3 of the KMC, Sourabh Chatterjee, medical officer of Ward 32, Dr Rehena Sarkar, microbiologist, senior officials of Beliaghata ID Hospital and laboratory technicians. The KMC officials have also undertaken a drive to clean the area.
The deceased have been identified as Subho Moyra (7) and Sabina Bibi (26). Moyra was admitted in hospital with “unknown fever” on November 9 and died on November 18, while Sabina died earlier this month. The death certificate of Moyra, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, confirms that the child died of pulmonary haemorrhage due to Scrub Typhus. “The disease is caused through bites of infected chiggers (larval mites). These insects are often found in rural jungles. The difference between Scrub Typhus and dengue is that the fever due to the latter never lasts for more than seven days. However if it persists and all common disease are ruled out, there is a possibility that the patient has Scrub Typhus. It can be dangerous if it turns into myocarditis or encephalitis. Last year, I had treated 10-15 cases of Scrub Typhus, but they were all from the outskirts and rural areas. However, if it is diagnosed on time, then the patient starts responding to medicines rapidly.”
Locals are, however, not convinced with the efforts of the corporation. “Now that people are dying, suddenly the health officials have swung into action. The KMC service is otherwise extremely poor here. No one ever bothers to clean the area. My daughter had fever but luckily she was treated timely,” said a local resident on condition of anonymity.
“Since the disease spreads through insects or rats, we have been campaigning in the area so that people maintain hygiene. Many people lack awareness. Despite corporation staff regularly cleaning the area, locals throw garbage on the road. We have also requested them not to litter,” the local councillor said.