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Door-to-door screening, help from IMA — Bengal’s plan to curb spread of adenovirus among kids

With over 12,000 children admitted to hospitals with acute respiratory infection over past 2 1/2 months, Bengal govt has formed task force to tackle surge in cases.

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Kolkata: Primary screenings of young children, door-to-door visits for early detection and an elaborate campaign to increase awareness among parents — these were some of the measures discussed Monday in the first meeting of the task force the West Bengal government has formed to curb the spread of adenovirus among children.

As many as 12,343 children have been admitted to hospitals across the state with acute respiratory infections over the past two-and-a-half months, said a press note issued by the state secretariat Monday. 

According to the note, 19 of these children didn’t survive, including 13 who had serious comorbidities. “Three due to low birth weight, two due to pre-existing lung disease, three due to congenital heart disease, two due to muscular dystrophy and one child has died due to serious infection,” the press note said.

Speaking in the assembly last week, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said a member of her family, too, was infected with the adenovirus. She appealed to the general public to wear masks and added, “I love children a lot and even if one child passes away, I feel sad.”

“The state government has taken steps to fight the virus. Misinformation is doing the rounds that there are no sick natal care units (special newborn care units or SNCUs) in the state. In fact, 2,486 such units are there across 138 hospitals. Under the CPI(M)’s rule, the state didn’t have such facilities,” the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief had said. 

According to the press note issued Monday, the daily new admissions of children diagnosed with adenovirus in the state have come down from 800 earlier to 600 now. 

The note adds that 2,763 of the total 5,000 general paediatric beds and 1,211 of the 1,748 SNCUs in the state were occupied as of 13 March. 

Asked about the situation, Kolkata-based child specialist Dr P.P. Giri told ThePrint that viral pneumonia cases had become an epidemic in the country back in 2018-19.

“Of those children who are being admitted, 90 per cent have respiratory tract infections and most of them have viral pneumonia. The most common organism that we are finding in viral pneumonia tests is an adenovirus. This adenoviral pneumonia epidemic was seen in 2018-2019 but we didn’t come across cases during the two years of Covid. We see the surge again now, but this time the magnitude is larger than 2018-2019,” he said. 

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Task force holds 1st meeting

On 11 March, Banerjee — who is also health minister — formed a task force led by the state chief secretary to curb the spread of infection. The task force also comprises two doctors, the chief advisor to the CM, the principal secretary (health), the principal secretary (women & child development), the director of health services, and the director of medical education.

In its first meeting Monday, the task force discussed several measures to curb the spread of the adenovirus, said a member. “Anganwadi workers will conduct primary screening of young children and make parents aware of symptoms for early detection. ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers will intensify door-to-door visits for early detection of the infection,” the member told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

In addition, the task force decided to bring in the Indian Medical Association (IMA) to create public awareness and sensitise medical practitioners affiliated with them on how to deal with children under their treatment.

The task force will also organise training sessions for private practitioners on how to deal with the infection, said the member quoted earlier.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been trying to corner the Banerjee-led TMC government by alleging that the state health department was ill-prepared to handle the surge in adenovirus cases among children. 

Besides raising it in the legislative assembly, leaders of the BJP also organised a protest march to the office of the state health department in Kolkata’s Salt Lake Area on 10 March to bring attention to the issue.

Seeking the intervention of Union Health minister Mansukh Mandaviya, state BJP president Sukanta Majumdar had said in a tweet Saturday that a “callous inept and heartless government led by a failed CM will never do justice to the healthcare system, especially to our children”.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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