Solving the mystery that hung over the recent outbreak of fevers resembling Japanese Encephalitis (JE) here, it has been confirmed that several of these cases were that of the West Nile fever, an illness categorized as a ‘potentially serious’ one across the world.
The exact details of the prevalence of the WN fever and its virus, which has been found to be spreading slowly along the coastal belt, are yet to be made public with the study still on. However, the confirmation that the recent outbreak included cases of WN has been done at the field station of the National Institute of Virology (NIV) here.
According to State Health Services Additional Director N. Sreedhar, there was no official information yet, though unofficial information reaching him mentioned the presence of WN in Alappuzha. Terming the fever “a mild variant of JE”, Dr. Sreedhar said an official report on the situation was expected shortly.
Meanwhile, experts say there are strong reasons to believe that WN virus could be getting more common in Alappuzha and parts of Kottayam too, because strong suspicions were raised about WN prevalence back in 2006 itself, during the Chikungunya outbreak here.
It was the present assistant director of the Cherthala unit of the National Centre for Control of Diseases (NCDC), R. Rajendran, who had then pointed out the possibility of the WN virus being the main villain in the fever outbreak that took a toll of 57 lives in Cherthala alone that year. The present NIV study, which found 40 per cent of the 208 cases they examined to be WN cases, has substantiated what Dr. Rajendran said about the presence of the virus here.
The symptoms of WN are similar to those of JE and Chikungunya, with patients complaining of high fever, tiredness and joint pains apart from brain functions being affected. The carriers are usually the Monsonia and Qulex mosquitoes. The mortality rate of WN, in severe cases, ranged up to 15 per cent. Dr. Rajendran told The Hindu that WN was first noticed in India during an NIV study in 1956. The study, published in 1973, had mentioned presence of WN in Kerala too. Later, in 1980, at the Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute for Medical Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram, 856 serum samples were tested and WN antibodies were found in 48.6 per cent cases. In another instance, four out of 67 samples sent to NIV, Pune centre from the Kottayam Medical College to check for JE, turned out to be WN.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, as the Leader of Opposition then, had demanded that a public health research institution be set up in Alappuzha to study water-borne, vector-borne and air-borne diseases apart from a regional office for the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. Both are pending, so are the demands to strengthen the existing units of the NCDC and NIV, though Alappuzha is turning out to be the headquarters for almost every disease reported in Kerala.