Kochi: Kozhikode, a district in northern Kerala, has been struck by a spate of viral fever after the recent monsoon rains, highlighting again the state’s lack of preparedness to contain the spread of contagious diseases.
At least 200,000 people from the district, or about 7% of its population, were down with viral fever in July alone; about 70% of them with chikungunya, said Thomas Mathew, nodal officer for the Kerala government’s disease control and monitoring cell.
Kerala was in a similar spot two years ago, when five of its districts were hit by a rapid spread of viral diseases, especially chikungunya, resulting in at least 200 deaths and eventually hurting productivity at its plantations. The state government had then come under fire for the collapse of its public healthcare system.
Spreading fast: A chickungunya victim being taken to hospital in Kerala in 2006. This year the disease is moving to new areas with rising severity. AP
Chikungunya, an illness spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes, is characterized by severe pain in the joints as well as fever and rashes.
E. Sreekumar, head of the molecular virology department at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in Thiruvananthapuram, said that like earlier, the outbreak this time, too, is spreading from the hilly terrains of Kozhikode, thick with rubber plantations.
“The outbreak is moving to new areas. And the severity of the illness is on the rise,” he said. “There is a prolonged impact of the illness, which includes heavy swelling of the legs and severe pain in the joints. People are bedridden for weeks.”
Entomological studies show that rubber plantations are a major source for such illness, Sreekumar added. Other scientists and medical experts also said rubber plantations are a breeding ground for the vector population.
In 2007, Kerala saw an outbreak of viral fever in its central districts—Pathanamthitta, Kottayam and Alappuzha—all rubber plantation hubs where latex is tapped from the trees during the monsoon as well.
Mathew of the state disease control cell said that local governments such as panchayats (village councils), rather than the state health department, have to ensure public hygiene and take preventive steps to check the spread of viral fever.
Cleansing operations of canals, water-logged areas and other breeding grounds for mosquitos after the 2007 outbreak saw a respite in 2008, but administrators have become complacent again, Mathew added.
A. Pradeepkumar, the local legislator, said the district administration has now launched cleansing operations in Kozhikode city, the district’s headquarters, especially around hospitals.
“While the Keralite is very conscious about personal hygiene, when it comes to social hygiene, there is a lethargy. And we are now paying a price for this,” said B. Ekbal, public health expert, neurosurgeon and former vice-chancellor of Kerala university. “It is common practice to keep one’s house and surroundings clean after depositing all the waste in public places.”