Vol. 4 Num 241 Wed. January 28, 2004  

Mystery disease
Why are we still in the dark about it?
After SARS it is the Asian bird flu that has set off alarm bell to health authorities in Asia. Viruses from the blue are wreaking havoc on human lives throwing formidable challenges to find antidotes to them. Times are bad, putting epidemiology to the severest of tests. No sooner had one unknown viral attack been contained another followed suit.

Against this backdrop, a mystery disease has taken a toll of 19 souls, mostly children, in Rajbari, Manikganj and Tangail. The fatalities have occurred over the last two weeks. But the patients are said to be recovering 'with supportive treatment alone', meaning use of antibiotic and antiviral medicines. No immediate link is established to bird flu but what is important to note is that we do not have adequate equipment to identify the virus or diagnose the disease. We are, of course, quarantining the patients and reportedly they are recovering through the administration of standard procedures. But have we woken up to the stupendous challenges of new viral infections that defy borders, however impregnable these might have been thought of? Let our health authorities keep in constant touch with their counterparts in the neighbouring countries to obtain the latest information about how they are dealing with the scourges. The WHO is expected to coordinate the findings and issue the do's and don'ts. But basically we must have a national infrastructural capacity to deal with any health crisis. With the dengue we ignored some early warning signals, let us not do the same with the current one. We must brace up to meet the challenge squarely.