Three people died of plague in Delhi in 2017, according to Delhi government’s recently released Annual Report on Registration of Births and Deaths.
The only problem with that statement is that India has had no cases of plague since 2004, when an outbreak in Uttarakhand infected eight and killed three people, according to National Centre of Disease Control.
The data is clearly wrong and senior officials at Delhi’s health department admit it is likely to be a clerical error. “These cannot be genuine cases. Usually, the mistake happens while codifying and data entry. We do try and check when such suspicious cases are reported, but sometimes some cases get missed. We get a quarterly report on all deaths in the city and it is extremely difficult to find one stray case; even when we do, tracing it back to the hospital is a huge task,” said Dr Ashok Rana, director general of health services, Delhi.
Then, the state government lists 47 plague deaths between 2014 and 2017; and , as reported by Hindustan Times in August 2017, the records for 2016 showed two smallpox deaths in Delhi, though the viral disease was eradicated from the world in 1980. It also listed 11 polio deaths in 2016, though India recorded its last polio case in January 2011 in West Bengal, and Delhi last recorded a polio case in June 2009, according to the Global Polio Eradication Programme.
The only other plague outbreak after 2000 was reported in 2002 in Himachal Pradesh, with 16 cases and four deaths.
“Plague is a highly infectious notifiable disease and all suspected cases are investigated by the national centre for disease control. So far only these two outbreaks have been investigated since 2000,” said a senior official from the ministry of health and family welfare.
Bubonic plague, the so-called “black death” of the middle ages, leads to painful swollen lymph nodes, along with fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, pain in muscles and abdomen, and delirium. It kills 30-60% of the people infected, while airborne pneumonic plague causes severe lung infection and chest pain, and almost always causes death, if untreated.
Delhi municipal corporation officials, who collect birth and death data from city hospitals, say it is a mistake. “The data entry operators do not really know anything about diseases, so they sometimes make mistakes in codifying the cases under different heads,” said Dr Dinesh Negi, assistant chief registrar, north corporation.
The annual report also shows cholera killed five people in 2017. It recorded 705 cholera deaths in Delhi between 2001 and 2016, when only 129 deaths from to cholera were reported nationwide between 2001 and 2016, according to WHO data.
“There is a need to tighten our data collection . The data for the births and deaths comes from the cause of death mentioned on the death certificates; this is not verified using tests for most of the cases. It also depends on the competence of the doctor; similar-looking diseases might get misdiagnosed,” said Prof K Srinath Reddy, president of Public Health Foundation of India.
“There is no need to get alarmed about the diseases [mentioned], but we need to be concerned about the data because the errors might creep into the international reports,” he added
May 15, 2019 00:52 IST