World Health Organisation investigations into the source of the parasite Naegleria that killed nine people are leading to the suspicion Karachi’s water supply carries it.
As this came to light, an engineer at Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) pointed out that they often miss chlorinating the city’s water supply because of financial constraints. Two companies provide the board chlorine. Dr Imdadullah Siddiqui, the director of medical services at the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), told The Express Tribune that they had written to the managing director of the KWSB asking that they ensure proper chlorination.
Water samples cannot be tested for the presence for the parasite. It is only detected via human spinal fluid. “If our domestic lines are supplying infected water it could result in a lot more deaths,” said an official of the health department on condition of anonymity. “Who knows if it already has as there has been so little awareness about the infection.” He pointed out that Pakistan also lacked the international practice of International Classification of Diseases (ICD) in which the cause of every death is documented.
The health department has instructed all hospital medical superintendents to be on a look-out for Naegleria. “Hospital management must be aware of the diseases and check for infection if a patient comes up with symptoms of meningitis,” said the health official.
A committee under Dr Siddiqui of three to four district officers, including an officer of quality control, are analysing water samples. According to him, the outbreak of the disease is not such a big issue for public health as it is not a communicable disease and can be controlled by disinfecting the water supply.
The WHO team submitted its report to the health department on Monday after visiting the three hospitals where cases of the waterborne Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) infection were reported. Cases were reported at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Liaquat National Hospital and Indus Hospital, Karachi.
The team said that they hadn’t received any information about a case being reported at a government hospital so far, but PAM has still been included in the WHO list of diseases for monitoring.
The findings, which state that the water being supplied to Karachi is not treated properly have ye to be proven scientifically.
The suspicion is based on the fact that only one of the four victims with PAM was infected from a farmhouse swimming pool. The remaining three used water from domestic lines, a team member told The Express Tribune.
An epidemiologist who works at WHO Pakistan, Rana Kakar, said that there was a need to look into the water sources of the city to see what kind of water is being supplied. The government should find out which water lines are faulty and fix them as well. While the doctors constantly reassure that Naegleria is an extremely rare infection and can be controlled, the concern for health professionals is the high number of deaths within a short span of 15 days.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2012.