An incident at a temple in Karnataka has spotlighted one of India’s major public health issues when it comes to infectious disease: food poisoning.
More than 130 worshippers at a temple in the Chamarajanagar district became sick after eating food offered during the service. Eleven people died and eight are in critical condition at the time of writing. Police are investigating the incident.
Early speculation by the media has blamed pesticides. However, police are awaiting the results of laboratory testing of both the organs of the deceased and the poisoned food in question. Conclusions will be drawn after the test results, says Geetha MS, a senior officer in the district.
“Food poisoning incidents of the kind witnessed in Karnataka have been steadily rising in the past decade. 2008 saw just fifty food poisoning outbreak rates. This means that, between 2008 and 2017, food poisoning outbreaks increased fivefold.”
The incident is not an isolated tragedy. Food poisoning is the second most common cause of infectious disease outbreaks in India. Of 1,649 outbreaks last year (as reported until December 3rd), food poisoning accounted for 242 of them.
Food poisoning incidents of the kind witnessed in Karnataka have been steadily rising in the past decade. 2008 saw just fifty food poisoning outbreak rates. This means that, between 2008 and 2017, food poisoning outbreaks increased fivefold.
Food poisoning outbreaks carry a comparatively low risk of fatality when compared to other infectious disease outbreaks. However, as the Karnataka incident shows, deaths do occur.
“Schoolchildren have fallen victim to food poisoning at alarming rates this year”
Perhaps the most notable instance of this occurring was observed in 2013 in Bihar. There, 23 schoolchildren died after consuming a free lunch that was contaminated by high levels of pesticides. 47 children were taken ill.
Schoolchildren have fallen victim to food poisoning at alarming rates this year. In a Mumbai private school in August, sixteen students and a teacher were admitted to hospital. Earlier that month, one girl lost her life in an incident affecting more than 400 children.
Lapses in sanitation are often to blame for such outbreaks. This can mean that food is prepared in unhygienic conditions or contaminated ingredients are used. Vigilance is essential to make sure that preventable outbreaks do not occur. This is important whether in the temple or the schoolroom. Otherwise such outbreaks will only continue to increase in number – and more will continue to lose their lives.