A Dangerous Outbreak

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Fear and anguish has pervaded the inhabitants of a south Kashmir village where nearly 30 percent of the screened population has tested positive for Hepatitis C virus. Experts fears that the epidemic might spread to adjoining villages if immediate steps are not taken to contain the virus, Suhail A Shah reports.

Congress leader peerzada Mohammad syed addressing people in a south Kashmir  village where Hepetatis C endemic  has raised  fears and concerns among the masses

Congress leader peerzada Mohammad syed addressing people in a south Kashmir village where Hepetatis C endemic has raised fears and concerns among the masses

Oblivious of the lashing rain and a group of children playing merrily around him, Abdul Majeed, a 52-year-old labourer, sits at the far corner of a row of shops, which serves as the marketplace for inhabitants of Takia Magam village in Kokernag area of Islamabad district, some 70 kilometres south of Srinagar city.

Majeed is almost shaken out of his slumber the moment he hears the word ‘virus’ and runs for cover, as if somebody was trying to hit him in the back of his head, “You see he does not want to talk to anybody about this,” says one of the shopkeepers.

After returning from Shimla where he works as a labourer in January this year, Majeed had gone to a doctor complaining of piles. However, the doctor advised him to run some blood tests which diagnosed that he was carrying the Hepatitis-C virus.

Following the incident, a lady doctor from a neighbouring village advised around seven expecting mothers to get some blood tests done and they too tested positive for the virus, “That was the beginning of it all,” says a village elderly.

While the process of screening the inhabitants has just begun, nearly 450 people from Takia Magam village which has a population of over 4000 have tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus.

“Nearly 1600 samples have been taken from the village and so far 450 have been tested positive, including women and children as young as five years old,” says Shabir Ahmad, a local chemist.

The bad news, however, is that the experts fear more positive cases, not only in this village, but in the adjoining ones as well. “There is no doubt that this is taking an epidemic level and needs serious government attention at the earliest,” says Dr Sultan Muhammad Khuroo, an eminent gastroenterologist of the valley appointed by the state government to file a report on Hepatitis-C outbreak in this south Kashmir village.

While Dr Khuroo maintains that the infection is decades old and they have just stumbled upon it now, the locals in Takia Magam village reinforce his views and say that there have been around 15 deaths in the village pertaining to liver ailments over the last eight to ten years. “We thought it was jaundice or something. How could we know the real reason? Our village does not even have a doctor,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a shopkeeper in the village.

The fact that the virus, in most of the cases, does not cause any problems for more than two decades, making it all the more dangerous and hard to detect unless proper tests are done.

Hepatitis-C Virus

Hepatitis-C Virus

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), Hepatitis-C virus is found in two percent of the world’s population with highest cases reported in Egypt, where nearly 15 percent of the population is affected, followed by Pakistan and China with 4.8 percent and 3.2 percent respectively. The main mode of transmission in these countries is attributed to unsafe injections using contaminated equipment.

“About 150 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis C virus, and more than 350 000 people die every year from Hepatitis C-related liver diseases,” reads the media section of the WHO website.

However, Dr Khuroo feels that the outbreak in Takia Magam can be more menacing than all the others cases across the world with the virus in this particular village threatening to engulf more than 60 per cent of the total village population.

The medical science says the virus is essentially transmitted through infected needles, or to be more precise, any kind of blood contact including organ transplants, blood transfusions, tattooing, using pre-used blades at the barbers’, and unhygienic conditions at the dentists’.

Then there are the lesser affecting reasons like unprotected sexual contacts and being born to an infected mother. There are other factors which have to be kept into consideration in Takia Magam village. Most of the men go outside the state to work as labourers. Moreover, a sizeable number of men have married girls from Bihar and Bengal. —

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