A virtual conjunctivitis epidemic is sweeping Mumbai. It is nothing to be complacent about and in fact could lead to paralysis, experts warn.
They recall the metro has a history of conjunctivitis epidemics, some of which resulted in cross-infection and even left patients paralysed.
Conjunctivitis, also known as pink-eye, is an infection caused by a virus or bacteria which causes redness, watering or discharge from the eye.
Often spread through the touch of an infected person, conjunctivitis is affecting large numbers, from schoolchildren to office-goers. But it is also largely self-limiting, and a person can get relief in a week provided he or she takes the right precautions.
"Not many know that the innocuous-seeming virus could show up along with another family of viruses called Enterovirus 70, which causes paralysis in the adult male," said senior neurologist and a former teacher at J J Hospital Noshir Wadia.
The city had in the 70s experienced an epidemic of conjunctivitis, and some of the affected cases showed paralysis-like symptoms. Even as public health experts say that they are closely watching the widespread presence of the eye infection, old-timers are asking for research into the new strains.
"There is a need for public health agencies to study the strain of virus causing the infection on a war footing," said Dr Wadia. Haffkine director Ranjana Deshmukh, whose team had studied the viral strain that caused an epidemic in the city in 1981, too points out that conjunctivitis is contagious and that research is necessary as the infection causes much discomfort to the public.
The city has been reeling under a prolonged assault from the infection. "We began noticing a few sporadic cases in the last week of August and the graph started escalating by mid-September," said senior city health official Jayaraj Thanekar.
He echoes most city ophthalmologists who blame it on the Mumbaikar's refusal to stay at home when downed by the infection. Take Nallasopara resident Vilas Pawar, who contracted conjunctivitis a fortnight ago. "I took eye-drops and returned to work when I got well, but my wife, my college-going daughter and school-going son all got the infection in turn," said Pawar.
"We are seeing two to three patients in a day, but these are the ones who reach a specialist. Others take treatment at home," said Dr S Natarajan of the Aditya Jyot Institute. He suggested that patients should be isolated for the first three days, when the infection is at its most acute.
Dr Thanekar also blamed the widespread occurrence on the population density, besides the city's cramped modes of travel and climatic changes. He also had another word of advice. "Patients should not use eye-drops with steroids at any cost, although they may provide temporary relief."