Health authorities clueless about spread of disease in Ooramana village

A maid working at a house in Muvattupuzha has lost her job. The house does not want any contact with people from Ooramana in Ramamangalam where hepatitis B is being reported from almost every other house. “With the sort of bad publicity Ooramana is getting, it won’t be long before people will stop having social connections here. Marriages are going to be the first casualty”, said a woman working in a shop at Shivli junction in Ooramana.

But is the disease knocking on the doors of Kochi? The hepatitis B scare is so far confined to Ramamangalam panchayat, which is 22 km away from the city. But people in neighbouring areas are scared that the disease could break out in their areas too. Since so many people have been found to be carrying the virus without any symptoms of the disease, the obvious question is how big is the spread and whether it has reached an epidemic proportion.

Ward numbers one and two, lying on either side of the Shivli junction, from where the Manipal Virus Research Centre collected blood samples are the virus hotspots. 189 out of the 800 samples tested so far from there showed positive signs of hepatitis B.

The health authorities through their communicable disease surveillance cell had so far detected 150 cases in two years (31 in 2011 and 119 in 2012 so far) in the entire district. Buy why is the disease going viral in Ooramana? Health authorities and the residents are clueless.

The hepatitis B virus spreads only through blood and body fluid contact, said G. Arun Kumar, head of the Manipal Centre. It can spread from an adult to a child or vice versa, who are in close contact at home.

The chances that people got infected at hospitals where they went for some treatment were slim unless the hospitals were not following general safety precautions, said Dr. Arun Kumar.

The government has proposed preventive measures but residents believe enough is not being done.

Healthcare activists want government to make the vaccine available at the nearest primary health centre. Bindu, an accredited social health activist (ASHA), is among those who tested positive for hepatitis B at a camp conducted in June.

The government has also yet not prescribed a treatment protocol. Every four out of five people tested positive for hepatitis B are taking a combination of both ayurveda and allopathy from a physician in Muvattupuzha.

The treatment has been effective in quite a few cases as the bilirubin (pigment in the liver bile) count has come down.

However, this count is only an indication of liver function, said Dr. Arun Kumar.

The presence of hepatitis virus is unmasked through the hepatitis B surface Antigen (HbsAG) test, which again may show negative after three months while in some it may be positive.

Sreenivasan and his wife Seema tested positive for hepatitis B but the two are taking different treatments. While Seema takes allopathic medicines, Sreenivasan has homoeopathic medicines, which he has found to be a little slow on recovery.

“I have been asked to take rest. Sreenivasan, who works in an advertisement agency, is the sole bread winner. “It is tough time,” he said.

T.A. Suresh, chairman of the standing committee on health in the panchayat, along with panchayat vice-president Soby Abraham, who represent the two wards, said the government needs to support people with free medicines, vaccinations.

The people believe that those who are infected and advised complete rest, should be supported financially too.