Deceptive bug behind Andhra disease

A seemingly harmless germ has been on a killing spree. This is what has been detected by the National Institute of Virology in respect of the mystery disease that has claimed more than 250 lives in Andhra Pradesh. The culprit, say researchers from the Pune-based institute, is the Chandipura virus -- till now considered benign

 
By Vibha Varshney
Published: Sunday 31 August 2003

-- (Credit: REUTERS)a seemingly harmless germ has been on a killing spree. This is what has been detected by the National Institute of Virology (niv) in respect of the mystery disease that has claimed more than 250 lives in Andhra Pradesh. The culprit, say researchers from the Pune-based institute, is the Chandipura virus -- till now considered benign.

These deaths were earlier attributed to Japanese encephalitis based on symptoms and tests carried out by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (nicd), New Delhi. The Chandipura virus did not figure in the initial list of suspects because it is generally not associated with serious diseases. Also, only niv has the antiserum to check for the presence of the virus.

But experts like K K Datta feel that further studies need to be conducted to verify the surprise finding. Datta, who is a former director of nicd, avers that the disease bears a closer resemblance to Japanese encephalitis (je). This is borne out by the fact that the illness is endemic in the afflicted areas. niv director A C Mishra, however, points out that the progression of the disease is too quick for it to be categorised as je. The infected person succumbs to the disease in just four days, as against the 10-day period in the case of je.

The Chandipura virus was first isolated from the blood of two patients during a dengue epidemic in Nagpur in 1965. Since then it has been found in humans as well as animals, but was not thought to be dangerous. Very little is known about the epidemiology of the disease it causes. It is distantly related to the virus that causes rabies. Though the germ's vectors are sand flies, the exact species is not known. There is also no specific information regarding the source of the virus.

In view of all these uncertainties, pathogen-specific control is difficult. "But since people are dying of encephalitis, the same prevention and treatment methods can be used irrespective of which virus is causing the disease," stresses B M Das, director, emergency medical relief, Union ministry of health and family welfare. Mishra opines that the ambiguity calls for quick funding for research in the field of vaccine development.

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