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Uttar Pradesh: When veterinary doctors came to the rescue of a human being

According to experts, African Sleeping Sickness is a zoonotic disease (common in both animals and humans) limited to the African subcontinent. The disease is spread by a fly (Tsetse fly) found in various parts of Africa and is lethal if not treated in time.

lucknow Updated: Jan 24, 2018 12:30 IST
Chandan Kumar
Chandan Kumar
Hindustan Times, Bareilly
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention,Tsetse fly,National Centre for Disease Control
Dr PS Banerjee(looking into a microscope) and his team from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute helped identify the infection that the woman had caught during a visit to Africa.(HT Photo)

On the night January 17, two men braved the cold weather and dense fog to carry an important blood sample from Delhi to Bareilly, 250 km away.

Highlights
  • This is the first recorded case of Trypanosoma rhodesiense infection in India.
  • The infection can only be spread by Tsetse fly which is not found in India.
  • If left untreated Trypanosoma rhodesiense infection reaches the brain and can lead to death.

The blood sample was of a 28-year-old woman (relative of the two men) who had fallen ill after a journey to Africa. She was admitted at a premier hospital in Delhi and her health was declining rapidly. But medical experts found hope for her in a rather unusual place -- IVRI (Indian Veterinary Research Institute), a primer research institute for animal health, in Bareilly.

The men reached IVRI at 2 am on January 18 and were greeted by Dr PS Banerjee, head of Parasitology Department.

The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had already alerted Banerjee about the woman’s case and he was ready with his team to examine the blood sample.

“On examining a smear of the woman’s blood under microscope, we found a large number of microscopic S shaped flagellates, Trypanosoma (parasite). This made it apparent that the woman was suffering from African Sleeping Sickness,” said Dr Banerjee.

According to experts, African Sleeping Sickness is a zoonotic disease (common in both animals and humans) limited to the African subcontinent. The disease is spread by a fly (Tsetse fly) found in various parts of Africa and is lethal if not treated in time.

According to a report of Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a United States body, African Sleeping Sickness is one of the leading causes of deaths in Africa.

NCDC got involved in the case because Trypanosoma infection in humans is very rare in India. However, a different kind of Trypanosma infection is found in some animals, which are diagnosed at IVRI.

“NCDC officials sought our help because of our expertise in diagnosis of Trypanosoma infections in animals,” explained RK Singh, Director of IVRI. “The case was a chance to break the barrier between human and animal health, and we were ready to take on the challenge,” he added.

By the January 18 morning, Dr Banerjee and his colleague Dr Rajat Garg not only managed to identify Trypanosoma, but also deduced the possible kind which had infected the woman. “The woman is likely infected by Trypanosoma rhodesiense, which is common in southern Uganda where the woman visited during her trip to Africa,” informed Dr Banerjee. The identification helped in deciding the treatment of the infection.

The confirmation report was sent to NCDC on the same day and it was later forwarded to the WHO requesting medication for the woman. “The drug (Suramin) for trypanosoma infection is not manufactured in India, so we had to request WHO to send it from its headquarters in Geneva,” explained Banerjee.

WHO acted promptly on NCDC’s request and delivered the drug, which reached India on January 19. The drug was administered to the woman the very same day, and it worked. “The woman has been administered with Suramin twice till date. Trypanosoma in her blood have reduced considerably after it’s administration. The woman is now out of danger,” asserted Banerjee.

First Published: Jan 24, 2018 12:30 IST