Other States

In 2001, doctors in Siliguri did not know it was a Nipah outbreak

N.B. Debnath has vivid memories of January and February 2001, when Siliguri town in north Bengal recorded the first outbreak of Nipah virus in the country.

“We had no idea what the virus was and everyday we (the doctors) thought that we will all die,” Dr. Debnath said. Of the 49 people who died during the viral epidemic, he recollects only one name, Ajit Maity.

“Ajit Maity was a colleague and cardiologist, who died of the virus. He had treated patients at a nursing home in Siliguri from where the outbreak is supposed to have spread,” he said.

Years later publications by scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune put the number case-fatality ratio as high as 74%. Researchers had described it as an illness with symptoms of fever associated with “altered sensorium.”

Asok Bhattacharya, Mayor of Siliguri Municipal Corporation who was the Minister for Urban Development in the Left Front government in 2001, echoed the same views as the doctors and said that the viral infection started from a private nursing home in Siliguri.

“People started leaving the town. The roads were deserted and even doctors started to run away. We had to get about 30 doctors from Kolkata to tackle the situation,” Mr. Bhattacharya said.

The research publication available on the Siliguri outbreak says the transmission of the virus occurred in healthcare settings through contact with infected persons and epidemiological features were similar to the Nipah outbreaks in Bangladesh. The first cases of infection were recorded in the last week of January 2011, peaked in the second week of February and no case was recorded after February 23.

Doctors said that it was isolation of infected patients that helped them control the situation in weeks. As far as treatment was concerned, they followed protocols for encephalitis. Most of the deaths occurred among hospitalised patients, family of the patients, and medical staff of four hospitals in Siliguri town.

Meanwhile the State Health Department held a meeting on Wednesday and decided to issue a precautionary advisory.

“We have no cases reported from the State, but we want to remain alert,” Ajay Chakraborty, Director of Health Services said.

Advisory letters have been sent to the Chief Medical Officer of Health and will be made public on Thursday, he said.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 8:38:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/doctors-in-siliguri-did-not-know-it-was-a-nipah-outbreak/article23971013.ece

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