Delhi's new public health concern—Japanese encephalitis

Did pigs bring it?

 
By Vibha Varshney
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

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Delhi has been hit by a new health-scare. Japanese encephalitis, a viral disease, has been reported for the first time in the metropolis. Four people have been affected so far. The viral disease affects the central nervous system and in severe cases can cause death. As of now, the patients—one woman and three children—are stable.

While the Municipal Corporation if Delhi (MCD) is taking steps to control the spread of the disease, it is not clear how the disease reached the city. The virus is spread by the three different species of the mosquito Culex. Pigs are the main host for the virus and act as the reservoir. Mosquitoes that bite the infected pig can transmit the virus to human beings.

Four people have been affected by Japanese encephalitis so far
Pigs are the main host for the virus and act as the reservoir
Mosquitoes that bite the infected pig can transmit the virus to human beings
Authorities are inclined to believe that an infected pig might have been imported. But this theory does not hold water as the affected people are from different parts of the city
Blood samples have been drawn from pigs in the affected areas and results are awaited. If found positive, steps would be taken to isolate and relocate the pigs, says MCD
 
Authorities are inclined to believe that an infected pig might have been imported. This theory does not hold water as the affected people are from different parts of the city—Gol Market in central Delhi, and Bawana, Pooth Khurd and Jahangirpuri in north Delhi. Gol Market, which is part of the New Delhi municipality, does not have pigs. “We are not able to really say, how it has come to Delhi, but we are taking adequate measures to contain the disease and there is no need for panic,” says Vinod Kumar Monga, chairperson of the medical relief and public health committee of MCD.

Mosquito control measures are being taken in the affected areas, especially the rural belt. Awareness is being created about the link between pigs and Japanese encephalitis.

The presence of the virus in pigs is yet to be established. “Blood samples have been drawn from pigs in the affected areas and results are awaited. If found positive, steps would be taken to isolate and relocate the pigs. An area has been identified in North Delhi's Mukundpur for this purpose,” says Deep Mathur, spokesperson of MCD.

This would take time as the pigs are mainly kept by the unorganised sector and even the number of pigs in the city is not known, says Monga. Pig keeping is promoted throughout the country as a source of income for the poor community. 

Meanwhile, MCD also has been tasked with removing the piggeries in Trilokpuri in by the Delhi High Court in response to a public interest petition filed by the Uttar Pradesh-Bihar Naagrik Parishad. The organisation contended that the pigs in the area were creating environmental pollution and spreading diseases. According to the court order dated August 10, 2011, MCD has to shift the pigs in the pig shelter at Trilokpuri to a village in Ghazipur within four months. In the Master Plan for Delhi 2021, piggeries are only permitted in the green belt and on agricultural land.

The disease spread
For Delhi, this would be a good time to take action against the disease. The disease which was earlier restricted to eastern Uttar Pradesh has now spread to many states. As of now the vaccine is provided in 112 endemic districts in 15 states. Recently, nine states asked the Centre to provide vaccine for Japanese encephalitis under the universal immunisation programme.

Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya, Maharashtra and Manipur have demanded that the vaccine be made available in 20 districts. The Centre is yet to take a decision on this. The vaccine is generally in short supply as it has to be cultured in brains of live mice. A new variant has been developed by Biological E using in-vitro cell cultures. The Hyderabad-based company recently completed the phase III studies of the vaccine.
 

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