Ecology Medical Vector borne diseases

Happy World Mosquito Day, Ahmedabad.

#Gorakhpur, #Encephalitis, #JapaneseEncephalitis, #Dengue, #WorldMosquitoDay, #Ahmedabad

While Gorakhpur may have emerged as God-sent gift for our masochistic nation that wants to hate itself to self-destruction, for me, Gorakhpur is not about oxygen or corruption, it is about Indians and science.

The morbid beauty of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) deaths that visit India with regularity of an atomic clock is that AES has been around since ages, but even today no one in India is really sure of which pathogen/toxin is the causative agent. I don’t think any nation can boast such an achievement especially when it is about a child-killer.

The AES story of India is far too complex for a 600 word column, but it needs to be told to people of Ahmedabad, as the causative pathogen may not be known, but there is a general consensus on the route of infection.

A majority of researchers suspect AES to be a combined work of various vector-borne arboviruses such as Japanese encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya, West Nile or Chandipur that are common to our tropical nation. Even though AES deaths may have various pathogens at play, as encephalitis season coincides with rains, there is a strong possibility that there is a common co-conspirator involved in this tragedy in form of a winged friend that we have cultivated oh-so-well in our city.

So, for you and me sitting in 1500 km from Gorakhpur in Ahmedabad, it is more than an opportunity to hate our systems. Gorakhpur is a city barely ten hour flight-time away from where an infection can arrive and ride on the wonderful VRTS (Virus Rapid Transport System) we have developed in our city by turning it into a mosquito heaven.

Though the Aëdes genus is the emerging contender for most efficient transporter of various arboviruses listed above in Ahmedabad, there is one more mosquito that needs our special attention.

Japanese encephalitis virus, a close cousin of dengue, that accounts for majority of AES cases is carried by culex mosquitoes. Culex quinquefasciatus, a recognised vector of this virus is found in abundance in Ahmedabad.

In fact, the culex population in Ahmedabad exceeds even the aëdes and anopheles numbers. So, there is ample ecological infrastructure already available for encephalitis to arrive and spread like wildfire amidst us.

Thankfully Japanese encephalitis has a vaccine, so it is not likely to cause an Armageddon, but if it decides to play for a season, it has power to cause devastation before we can counter it.

The issue of vector borne diseases is gathering momentum by each year in a extremely predictable way. There is no doubt that our resident dengue and chikungunya viruses are going to improve their telly substantially this year and are likely to gallop forward as time passes. With our mosquito population growing exponentially each season, we are also going to find new arrivals like Japanese encephalitis or West Nile virus to torment us.

With our city turning into a cauldron churning a potent mix of viruses and mosquitoes, there is also an even bigger threat of Ahmedabad gifting brand new pathogens to the world by evolving new strains of viruses.

The real moral of Gorakhpur story is about our apathy towards scientific dimension of any problem. Oxygen cylinders or corruption is just an extension of something far more sinister, but the emotional frenzy whipped by media has eclipsed it.

Let us use Gorakhpur as what it is, an ecological crisis that is staring in our faces. Ahmedabad is the most likely epicentre of next biological disaster if we are not going to be ready with science to counter it.

We need to prepare for the worst and scientific research is our only hope. Gujarat government needs to seriously invest in setting up a dedicated research centre for vector borne diseases before it is too late.

DNA: 20/8/17

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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