At least 150 people in a remote village of Pahalgam have tested positive for hepatitis C in what has set alarm bells ringing in the health department that if measures are not taken to stop the spread of the infection, it could transmit to areas beyond the village.
The village of Wularhama, in Pahalgam, sits on the Bijbehara-Pahalgam road where complaints of illnesses related to hepatitis C had grown to an alarming level in recent times.
A screening test was carried in the village and health authorities were shocked by the number of people who tested positive for the infection. "As of now we have screened 1673 people in the village out of which 153 have tested positive," said Chief medical officer, Anantnag Dr Fazil Kochak. He said that the screening will continue. "After this EISA test would be done so as to treat patients on priority basis," said the CMO.
He appealed to the people not to panic and instead adopt hygienic health practices. Several members of the same family have tested positive. "My wife and me both have tested positive for infection," said one of the villagers.
He said that he was very poor and cannot afford treatment. "Three of us in our family including me, my wife and child have tested positive. I don't know what to do now," said a visibly upset middle aged man. The infection is also spreading to nearby villages of Anantnag town. At least 15 people have tested positive in the twin villages of Batengoo and Urahanhall, barely few kilometres from the town.
"170 people were screened there out of which 15 tested positive for Hepatitis c, 6 for Hepatise B and," said the CMO.
Over time, untreated hepatitis C can cause hardening and scarring (cirrhosis) in the liver, which slows down blood flow through this large organ — a process that's crucial for processing both nutrients and toxins, among other things.
Greater Kashmir ran a series of stories on the spread of the infection that had gripped several villages in Kokernag in the year 2013 after which health authorities conducted mass screening there. More than 2000 people had tested positive in four villages of Takia -Magam, Sonbarie, Sagam and Zalangam alone. With the infection almost endemic in the area at least 15 lives were consumed by the silent killer in the first two villages alone.
Later, acting on GK reports about poor patients being unable to bear expenses of treatment a supply order was issued by the Medical Supplies Corporation and drugs worth Rs 2.5 crore were purchased and affected people were given the treatment.
However, the much awaited grant of Rs 7.50 crore approved by the state cabinet in 2014 to provide necessary treatment to Hepatitis-C affected people in Magam and Sonabarie villages was never released leaving many patients in the lurch.
Further, in the absence of remedial measures more cases came to the fore in many areas of valley – Shopian, Srinagar – and the infection kept on spreading. Noted gastroenterologist Dr MS Khuroo after his visit to the Kokernag villages few years back had declared the infection as epidemic.
He had warned that if the authorities did not wake up, the situation could worsen in years to come. The Health experts have also declared the infection as decades-old transmitted by some specific source.
"As the mode of transmission is same as HIV and as such, besides necessary treatment of the already infected, educating and creating awareness among the people is equally important to prevent the further spread of this silent disease," said a medico.
He, however, said that the health authorities have been sleeping over the issue.
"Neither any awareness program is being initiated nor there has been any check on the unhygienic dental and medical practitioners operating in the areas were infection is spreading fast," he said adding barely conducting IEC activities won't do.
"There is no check on chemists particularly in rural areas." As per public health experts every patient needs close monitoring during the treatment and the cost may go up to Rs 2 lakh.