BHUBANESWAR: With the world scrambling to deal with Wuhan Coronavirus, the latest global health emergency, the spotlight is once again on the dire necessity of a robust and proactive disease surveillance system, particularly in countries like India. With patterns in disease outbreaks changing dangerously and newer threats emerging at an alarming rate, there is an urgent need to make health systems proactive than being reactive to situations, experts are raising the red flag.
“Public health institutions and departments in the western world conduct regular surveillance and collect sentinel samples on a regular basis before overt cases are seen. In fact, the current Chinese outbreak was caught by their disease surveillance system where multiple pneumonia cases were reported on the same day from the same place”, said Fellow – Infectious Diseases Society of America; Professor, Georgetown University Medical Center, USA, Dr Pinaki Panigrahi.
These days, data analytics and citizen science is used to track out-of-ordinary drug sales or atypical case presentations in any geographic location. Laboratories are also set up in multiple strategic locations to conduct analysis swiftly. While these activities are done in the background and no one notices them, they form the backbone of a solid public health system.
Dr Panigrahi, also the founder of AIPH University, Bhubaneswar, said the institute has conducted surveillance of neonatal sepsis over the last 10 years. Results of these activities have been published in the world’s top journals including the Lancet and Nature and have brought about novel findings such as a very low rate of bacterial infection in neonatal sepsis and previously unreported mycoplasma and RSV infection to be the causative agents. “Public health surveillance in Odisha needs to be strengthened and this can only be done when this aspect is considered among the most vital part of health services and management by the Government. It has to be institutionalised and put on the forefront”, Dr Panigrahi stated.
On nCoV, he said, though the new virus strain is similar to SARS and MERS very little is now known about its epidemiology and clinical outcomes. The focus should, thus, be on prevention and the steps are similar to that recommended for all viral transmissions like frequently washing hands with soap or alcohol-based hand rubs, avoiding close contact with those having fever or cough, etc.“Do not cough or sneeze into your hand or fist. Whatever area the infected hand touches will become infected and the chain of spreading will continue. Cough into your folded elbow or clothes”, he said.