Last week, as many as 12 employees of a central Kolkata office were afflicted with chicken pox and measles. Of these 12 people, four had measles and the rest had chicken pox. The fact that a large number of patients are aged between 16 and 25 years has taken experts by surprise. "This generation had been vaccinated for the diseases. So they shouldn't have had them, though immunization doesn't guarantee that the disease won't strike. It reduces the chances and the intensity," said Amitabha Saha, a medicine specialist. Some experts feel the diseases could be the result of 'sick building syndrome' (SBS). SBS is triggered by poor ventilation, mostly in office buildings, leading to a poor quality of air which breeds infections. "While irritation in the eyes and throat is the most common initial symptom, SBS could also lead to chicken pox and measles. Last week, I had a dozen patients from the same office who either had chicken pox or measles. In each case, the disease was quite severe and a majority of them had been vaccinated," said Debashish Basu, preventive medicine specialist.
The number of cases should have started going down by now, pointed out experts. Medicine specialists Subrata Moitra said, "Generally, chicken pox and measles cases reach their peak by mid-February. They start climbing down by early March and cases should be sporadic in late April. Since we are approaching peak summer now, these diseases should be on the wane." Some private hospitals refused admission to patients in the fear of the diseases being transmitted. "We had received scores of enquiries but had to turn them down for we don't have enough isolation beds. While we are planning to open an isolation ward for swine flu patients, chicken pox and measles patients can't be accommodated now. We have been requesting patients to go to the ID Hospital in case the attack is very severe," said the CEO of a private hospital.
Children, too, have been affected, particularly those in the 4-12 age group, said paediatricians. Almost all were immunized. "It's a little too late for the diseases to strike. The heat has made it even tougher for the children. Recovery is taking longer than usual. But it is not correct to say that immunization has been a failure. Even if it doesn't prevent the disease, it makes sure that the attack is milder," said paediatrician Shantanu Ray.