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GTA initiatives to check the spread of Scrub Typhus

GTA Sabha member Yogendra Rai (right) along with experts on Scrub Typhus
Better late than never, they say. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), led by its member from Kurseong, Mr Yogendra Rai, has started taking initiatives to check the spread of Scrub Typhus, a disease that has killed several people in the Kurseong sub-division since it first appeared in 2004.
As the disease rears its ugly head again, the latest victim was Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha youth leader in Kurseong, Bishal Khambu Rai, who died in a Siliguri nursing home last Thursday, while at least four patients are currently undergoing treatment in Kurseong hospital for suspected scrub typhus.
A person is infected with the scrub typhus when an infected mite, which generally lives on the body of rats and shrews, stings a person. These mites are predominantly present in areas where rats are present in large numbers. Humans get stung by these mites accidentally when they are exposed to mite infected areas called ‘mite islands.’
Symptoms of the disease are fever with severe headache and a black scar called eschar where the person has been bitten.
Addressing a press conference here yesterday, Mr Rai, along with experts and medical officers of Kurseong hospital, said they will be spreading awareness on the disease among the masses in the Hills. According to an expert on the disease, Dr AK Barui, the treatment for Scrub Typhus is very easy if detected at an early stage.
He said the disease cannot be diagnosed through simple blood tests or any other method, and that the diagnosis is a long process. “Its treatment is based on symptoms like fever with severe headache and the black scar where the mite has bitten the person,” he said.
He said that in the early stages, a simple and inexpensive Azithromycin can cure person of scrub typhus.
However, despite the several measures being taken by health officials, the local political leadership and the administration in the plains are yet to take the matter seriously.
It is learnt that Scrub Typhus was reported for the first time in West Bengal in the Kurseong Sub-Divisional Hospital in 2004. Blood samples had then been sent to the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in New Delhi for tests. Since then, laboratory facilities for diagnosing scrub typhus have been commissioned at the Kurseong hospital.
In 2005-2006, a study was conducted to find the geographical areas affected by scrub typhus, including in Pahilagaon and Duptin areas of Mirik and Ambootia, Makaibari, Mahanadi, Rinchingtong, Latpanchar and Sittong areas of Kurseong block. However, there were no reports of any outbreak during that period and hence no reason for immediate concern, too.
So far, hundreds of cases have been diagnosed and treated for the disease since the first case. As treatment is readily available, deaths due to this disease are low. However, doctors advise people to report it at an early stage. Studies have found that having houses near bushes like bamboo groves, stacking piles of wood in the backyard of the house, rearing domestic animals near the house and working in the fields without protective clothing for long hours expose humans to the risk of the disease. Having separate work clothes and changing clothes before going to sleep were found to be protective. Further, having a wash or bath after daily work was also found to help.
Experts at the Kurseong hospital recommend measures to control the rat population in and around households and place of work.
These include proper storage of food in households and proper disposal of waste. Treatment for the infection is simple and available in all public health centres and hospitals, doctors here said.
It is also learnt that Dr Barui, the former medical officer at the Kurseong hospital, had played an important role in diagnosing and controlling the outbreak of scrub typus when in first surfaced in early 2000.
He went to many places across the country and discussed the matter with several medical and research experts, while several teams from various parts of the country also visited Kurseong and investigated the outbreak.
However, despite all this, humans continue to die of the bite, while experts say this could be because of the lack of awareness among the masses.(sns)

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