RAIPUR: More than 50 people have died from a mysterious ailment in a remote village in Sukma district of Bastar in a short span of time, triggering alarm in nearby areas.
While local media reports put the death toll in Regdagatta village at 61 over a six-month period, the administration says there were 50-52 deaths, spread over two years. Even then, it’s alarming that 50 people in a village of 800 have died without their families getting to know what killed them.
The disease causes swelling in the feet and limbs and nausea, but a cause hasn’t been identified yet. Health authorities are scrambling to diagnose the disease. Samples of those ailing have been taken for tests. Soil and water from the village are also being tested.
Regadgatta is around 100km from the Sukma district headquarters and close to the Odisha and Telangana borders. Organising health camps in this inaccessible region in the peak of monsoon is a massive challenge. This is why the deaths had gone unnoticed for months until there were so many that news trickled out to local mediapersons and the district headquarters was alerted two day ago.
Sukma collector Haris S confirmed the deaths and the symptoms — swelling of extremities, vomiting and uneasiness. Preliminary lab reports of water and soil samples show higher-than-permissible fluoride content in two hand-pumps and high iron content as well in one of them.
People of Regadgatta have been advised not to use the water from these hand pumps.
Haris said 41 people, including some asymptomatic, have been brought to the Sukma district hospital. Fourteen of them have been detected with a kidney ailment and they are being treated. Health officials are carrying out regular follow-ups, he said, adding that a medical team has already reached the village to collect blood samples which are being sent to a lab in Nagpur.
Health department spokesman Dr Subhash Mishra said they suspect the illness is caused by consumption of water with high fluoride and iron content. “We are carrying out extensive tests to identify the exact cause of the disease,” he said.
Reaching the village is an ordeal for health workers. The nearest block is Konta, a Maoist hotspot, around 25km away. The only way to get anywhere close to Regadgatta is on motorcycles after fording several rivulets. Sometimes, the rivulets are so fast-flowing that it’s impossible to get to the other side. There is no road for the last few kilometres and you have to walk.
The deaths in Regadgatta village are chillingly similar to the unrelenting nightmare in Supebeda village of Gariaband district, 360km away, where more than 130 deaths have been reported due to chronic kidney disease (CKD). Nearly 80% families in the village of 1,800 people have kidney patients. The state government has introduced a water treatment facility in the village.