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Cholera outbreak in Bengaluru?

Taking a water test for analysis from a reservoir. Cholera outbreak concept.
Image credit: Raman Venin / 123rf

A potential cholera outbreak has been reported in Bengaluru as hospitals in the Karnataka state capital have witnessed a spate of suspected cases in the last week.

Seventeen people are suspected to be infected with the water-borne diarrhoeal disease, with two cases confirmed. As reported in The Hindu, the seventeen suspected and confirmed cases are dispersed across the city’s east, south, and west zones, where eight, seven, and two cases have been reported respectively. In addition to the suspected cholera cases, 85 confirmed gastroenteritis cases have been reported in the city in the month of March alone. 

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), an administrative body whose ambit encompasses the Greater Bangalore metropolitan area, has taken stock of the prospective cholera outbreak. The body is consulting with the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB). 

“Two confirmed cases of cholera have been reported in the city,” commented Jawai Akhtar, a principal secretary in the Health and Family Welfare Department of the Government of Karnataka. “I have asked the BWSSB chairman to get water samples from the affected areas tested.” 

BBMP commissioner B. H. Anil Kumar has reached out to BWSSB chairman Tushar Girinath and asked him “to get the water supplied through BWSSB pipelines tested, and supply water to areas that were yet to be serviced by the board through tankers.” Awareness raising efforts will be conducted in the affected areas by medical officials of water-borne diseases, who will also dispense chlorine tablets, and urge citizens to drink boiled water to ward off the potential cholera outbreak. 

“We have informed and educated the residents, and have set up a help desk in the urban primary health centres of BBMP,” chief health official Dr B. K. Vijendra commented. “We are also in touch with the Principal of Ambedkar Medical College and have also got gastroenterology reports from Kadgondanahalli. The BBMP is aware of these cases and our doctors are out on the field taking appropriate actions.” 

While the number of confirmed cases is pegged at two, hospital officials claim the figure is actually higher. As reported in The Bangalore Mirror, internal medicine consultant Dr Saad Hafeez Usmani of Columbia Asia Hospital said “we have seen eight positive cases in the last ten days.” Aster CM Hospital internal medicine consultant Dr Brunda M. S. reported that “as of now, there are three cholera cases in our hospital.” 

Negligence has been alleged on the part of the authorities by some medicos in the city. “Many positive cases of cholera have been reported in the city. The authorities had been neglecting it till now,” said internal medicine senior consultant Dr Raghu J of Sakra World Hospital. “We have received four severe cases where the patients were diagnosed with acute kidney injury. But, they have all recovered.” 

As to the root cause of the potential outbreak, Vijendra said “we have sent water samples to [the] Public Health Institute for testing. There is a possibility of sewage getting mixed with drinking water.” He added that “the number of cases at this point is unusual because we haven’t had cholera cases in the last two years.” 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cholera kills between 21,000 and 143,000 people each year and there are between 1.3 million and four million cases. India is no stranger to diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera. Indeed, diarrhoeal diseases account for the most common causes of infectious disease outbreaks in India. 

The disease is caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It can be prevented by a high quality of sanitation and availability of safe drinking water. Treatment can involve oral rehydration solutions, effective in as many as eighty percent of cases according to the WHO; severe cases may necessitate swift treatment using antibiotics and intravenous fluids. 

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