4 kids succumb to ‘mysterious’ fever in North Bengal, hundreds hospitalised

With children getting admitted with symptoms of breathlessness, cough and cold, while doctors are yet to ascertain the disease, they suspect it could be viral pneumonia or respiratory syncytial virus

Many of the admitted children have tested negative for COVID-19. Representative photo: iStock

An inexplicable spurt in viral pneumonia and similar symptoms among children across West Bengal has claimed four lives and hospitalised hundreds in the past one week amidst concern over growing cases of malaria and dengue and apprehension of another COVID wave.

In the worst-hit Jalpaiguri district, a three-month old baby and a six-year-old child died after suffering from breathlessness, cough and cold on Wednesday (September 15). So far four children have died in the district due to similar ailments.

On an average 300 children with similar symptoms are being rushed to the outpatient department (OPD) of the hospital daily since the past couple of days, the district hospital’s superintendent Dr Pradipta Bhattacharjee told reporters. Out of the lot, at least 40 are getting hospitalised, Dr Bhattacharjee said.

“The number of infected children is increasing. We have tested them for coronavirus. But all the test results came negative. We have informed the state health department about the development,” he added.

A few children have also been sent to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri. As of Wednesday 130 children are admitted in the hospital with complaints of fever, cough and shortness of breath.

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Principal of the medical college Dr Indrajeet Saha said, of the admitted children, five have tested positive for dengue, six for scrub typhus and one was found to be COVID positive.

The exact cause of fever in other children could not be ascertained, but health officials suspect they have been infected with viral pneumonia or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The RSV is a common bug that causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. The infection generally gets cured in a week or two, but for infants and older adults, it can prove fatal if not treated early.

Similar rise in “viral fever” among children has also been reported from other parts of the state including Kolkata, prompting the health department to form an expert committee to frame guidelines for treatment of “fever among children.”

Most of the affected children are in the age group of 50 days to 10 years.

“We are getting reports of viral fever among children from various parts of the state. To deal with the situation, we will prepare treatment procedures in consultation with the expert committee,” said director of health services (DHS) Ajay Chakraborty.

Chakraborty and other senior officials of the health department on Wednesday conducted a virtual meeting with district health officials to take stock of the situation and discussed precautionary measures needed to be taken to contain the fever outbreak.

The state officials told the district authorities that COVID-like protocols such as wearing of masks, washing of hands and isolation of fever patients should be followed.

The latest health challenge has come amidst a renewed spike in COVID-19 cases for the last two consecutive days and spiralling of malaria and dengue cases in the state.

On Wednesday, 743 new COVID cases were reported, 40 more than the previous day. The number of new infections jumped to 703 on Tuesday from 506 a day earlier amid worries of a possible third wave.

Adding to the woes of the health officials, malaria and dengue cases too are increasing in the state.  More than 4,000 malaria cases have been detected in Kolkata alone by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s health department till the second week of September, the civic body officials said.

Most of these cases were reported since July, the officials added.

According to state health department officials, Kolkata accounts for about 80 per cent of the state’s present malaria cases.

The state has also reported more than 250 dengue cases so far, which is a slight increase from last year’s figure of 200.

However there has been no malaria or dengue death in the state so far.