While the West Bengal government feels there is no evidence of a viral epidemic in the State at present but the paediatric wards across most government and private hospitals are overflowing with patients getting admitted with various complications arising out of the adenovirus.
It ranges from severe conjunctivitis, temporary loss of vision, acute respiratory distress and severe form of viral pneumonia among others.
While some of these are reversible with strong medicines including steroids, for some children the damage, particularly to the lungs, is more long-term and permanent, senior health experts said.
The phenomenon (adenovirus induced complications) among children is more common in West Bengal as other States have not been reporting any significant surge in infections among that age group, they added. The health infrastructure across hospitals may not be able to support if such rapid surge continues, they feel.
According to official sources, as many as 5,213 Acute Respiratory Infection cases have been reported and there have been 12 deaths in government hospitals due to adeno virus and out of the same 8 cases were having severe co- morbidities.
“Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) due to different viruses is a common seasonal phenomenon. However, number of ARI infection appears to be higher in the current year as the seasonal surges due to adeno virus were taken over by the surges of Covid-19 virus in the previous years (2021 and 2022). There is no evidence of viral epidemic at present. The current situation is nothing but a seasonal surge and number of infections due to adeno virus have already started coming down,” an official communication from the State government said.
Though adenovirus and other strains of viruses have been around for many years now, it was not known to be so virulent leading to such complications. However, this time there has not only been a spike in number of cases, but also leading to various complications particularly among children of all ages.
The current surge is believed to have been caused by a recombinant strain of two serotypes (3 & 7) which is known to be “notorious”. It is causing longer duration respiratory trouble, drop in oxygen levels and pneumonia among children. There have also been some unfortunate deaths, said Sayan Chakraborty, Consultant Infectious Diseases, AMRI Hospitals.
“The increase in air pollution levels and the reopening of schools is leading to the spreading of the virus very rapidly. While earlier also children would get affected due to the virus but the symptoms typically would be fever, cough and bronchitis. But this time around some children are coming in with high grade fever (103-105 degree) which is not responding to antibiotics, redness of eyes, severe cough lasting up to four weeks and not responding to medicines,” Avishek Poddar, Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Intensivist, Apollo Multispecialty Hospitals, Kolkata, told BusinessLine.
Healthcare infrastructure not adequate to meet the surge
This infection can affect any age group, but younger children with co-morbidities like congenital heart disease, severe malnutrition, etc. are at a higher risk requiring medical attention.
The State “is prepared in all respect” to deal with the current situation. There are more than 5,000 beds in 121 hospitals in the State having facilities for management of paediatric ARI, with 600 paediatricians in position. There are 2,476 SNCU (sick new born care units) beds, 654 PICU (paediatric intensive care unit) beds and 120 NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) beds across the state. Number of beds dedicated to attend paediatric ARI are further being increased as per the situation, the state government said.
“The situation arising out of current viral upsurge in under full control. There is no need of any kind of panic in this regard. Adequate facilities and expertise is available in the state to deal with the current situation. State government is keeping a close watch over the situation,” it said.
However, doctors across various multispecialty hospitals paint a different picture.
According to Saugata Acharya, Senior Consultant and Head of Department, Paediatrics, Calcutta Medical Research Institute, CK Birla Kolkata, a cluster of cases of adenovirus can take a toll on the healthcare system. Since it is viral, it is difficult to give any specific therapy.
“It is highly contagious so we need to have isolation wards in hospitals otherwise a child with some other medical condition may get cross infected with the virus. We are seeing instances of the child getting better and going back home but again getting readmitted with some symptoms due to cross infection. Ideally we should have separate isolation wards but it is difficult to do so given the huge surge in number of cases,” he said.
The State government, however, reassured that it has taken several “proactive measures” to deal with the situation including circulating a standard case management guideline to all medical establishments; setting up control rooms to monitor the situation on 24*7 basis; ensuring availability and full functionality of oxygen and oxygen delivery equipment like MGPS, HFNO, CPAP, Paediatric Ventilator etc; setting up separate paediatric ARI clinics in every secondary and tertiary care hospital and making round the clock paediatric emergency service available among others.