Kerala can now heave a sigh of relief. The six samples, including that of the two nurses who had first taken care of the patient diagnosed with Nipah in Kochi, has tested negative for the Nipah virus.
Not just Nipah, other deadly communicable diseases too have been commendably kept in check in the state this year. When compared to the five month period from January to May last year, the incidence of infections like dengue, malaria, typhoid and chikungunya have shrunk considerably, in some cases by even half.
Till the end of May last year, the confirmed dengue cases in the state were 848. This year till June 5, there are only 436 confirmed dengue cases according to the figures put out by Directorate of Health Services (DHS); this is less than even half of what was recorded last year. If the dengue deaths were eight last time till May, this time till June 5, it is three.
Confirmed chikungunya cases during the first five months have come down to 13 from 32. Malaria cases have fallen to 152 from 286. The fall in typhoid cases is the most dramatic, from 79 to six cases.
Nonetheless, the incidence of water-borne diseases like leptospirosis and cholera have shown an increase. Patients with confirmed leptospirosis, a bacterial disease transmitted when people come into contact with water contaminated by rodent urine, have increased to 298 from 226 last year. Leptospirosis has a higher death rate than dengue. While for dengue the death rate is less than one per cent, for lepto it is over 5 per cent. However, the lepto deaths this year is 10 when compared to 13 last year.
Cholera cases, too, have increased, from 1.93 lakh confirmed cases it has shot up to 2 lakh cases till June 5. The five deaths from cholera till June 5 this year is but lower than the seven deaths reported till the end of May last year. Hepatitis-A cases have fallen but the more deadlier Hepatitis-B cases have risen this year. Together they have killed seven this year till June 5, and eight last year.
Despite a spike in certain infections, public healthcare in the state still presents a comforting picture. However, community health experts caution that complacency was not in order. “Diseases are traditionally unleashed on people after the southwest monsoon sets in. In other words, major disease outbreaks happen after the second week of June,” said Dr Abraham George, a community medicine expert based in Idukki. Last year, the biggest surge in dengue and leptospirosis cases had taken place since May, after the onset of the southwest monsoon.
The performance of the public health system last year holds out hope. “When compared to previous years, last year's figures look less alarming. Despite the sustained intensity of the southwest monsoon and the massive flooding of Central Travancore regions last year, infections have remained relatively in check last time,” Dr George said. This also means that this year's performance was an improvement on a relatively good performance last year.
The Directorate of Health Services has been relentless in its awareness drive; its activities were not put on hold even during the election period. “Our workers collaborate with local body officials to constantly talk to people. On the one hand we keep telling people what to do when it rains. Such tips are mostly related to personal hygiene and neighbourhood sanitation. On the other hand, we have effectively supervised the chlorination and vector-control activities like the erasure of mosquito-breeding areas that were carried out by almost all the local governments across the state,” a top DHS official said.