Hepatitis C scare in Valley village, 300 test positive

Nestled deep within snow-clad mountains, the people of Takiya Magam talk in whispers. They talk about a disease they know little about. Of the 4,000 inhabitants of this village in south Kashmir, 300 have been found to be suffering from Hepatitis C.

The state Health Department has started screening the villagers and has already taken blood samples of more than 1,300 people.

"We have sent the samples to the NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control) for genotyping to find the exact strain," Director, Health, Saleem-ur-Rehman told The Indian Express. "As a precaution, we have decided to test all the villagers, and everyday our team collects more than 100 samples."

A four-member NCDC team has also arrived in Kashmir for an on-the-spot assessment and will try to find out the source of the disease.

The Hepatitis C victims include people from all age groups — from a boy of 12 to a 62-year old man.

The outbreak of Hepatitis C, a contagious life-threatening liver disease that primarily spreads by blood-to-blood contact — largely through intravenous drug use, infected medical equipment or contaminated transfusions — was discovered by accident.

"A pregnant woman's blood tests showed she was infected by the Hepatitis C virus. Similarly six other patients were detected when they went for tests for some other diseases," said Ghulam Mohammad Mir, Takiya Magam sarpanch. "When several of our patients tested positive for the disease at SKIMS (Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences), the Health Department started screening in the whole village."

The department, however, is yet to find the source of the outbreak.

Takiya Magam has no government health facility and one of the villagers, Syed Mehmood Ahmad, points fingers at the six private chemist shops, known to also practise some medicine.

Soon after the discovery of the outbreak, the state's Department of Drug and Food Control had, in fact, sealed all the six shops, but these re-opened within a week. "The licences were suspended for 10 days for not maintaining the records of sales and purchases," said Deputy Controller, Drug and Food. "After the expiry of the 10 days, they have re-opened their shops."

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