The ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic has led to India’s disease surveillance system recording unusually fewer instances of diseases other than COVID-19, according to information on weekly outbreaks available on the website of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), a Health Ministry body.
The IDSP issues weekly reports on disease outbreaks across the country based on its surveillance network that spans at least 600 districts.
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In the week of March 16-22, the most updated report that is available, there were only six outbreaks/disease alerts reported. In the same week last year, there were 17 alerts; in 2018, there were 28, and in 2017, there were 45.
An alert is when a sizeable number of cases from a region are reported. The reports include specific villages from where the cases emerged, the mode of diagnosis and the steps taken by the authorities to control the outbreak. The six alerts in Week 12 of the year included a case of Crimean-Congo Haemorraghic Fever from Gujarat, three cases of chickenpox from Bihar, and a case each of dengue and food poisoning from Karnataka and West Bengal respectively.
No records after March
In a typical year, IDSP reports are available online every week. However there are no records this year after week 12, that is after March 22. In week 11, the IDSP reported 110 cases of COVID-19.
The IDSP network records the first cases of the virus infection in Kerala and until week 10 (March 2-8) appears to have regularly recorded disease outbreaks.
For instance, in the first week of March, it recorded 36 outbreaks of as many as 15 diseases ranging from anthrax to measles, as well as seven cases of COVID-19.
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Officials said the under-reporting was due to the lockdown and the behavioural change that actually depressed instances of disease spread.
“There were fewer instances of people reporting diseases other than COVID-19 in hospitals. However, after May 3, there is again an increase in reports of other diseases but the latest data suggests that it hasn’t completely normalised as compared to previous years,” said Dr. Sujeet Kumar Singh, Director, National Centre Disease Control (NCDC). The IDSP is a unit under this body. Dr Singh, however, denied the possibility that fewer outbreaks were reported because COVID-19 was prioritised over all else and monitors ignored other diseases.
A.C. Dhariwal, former Director of IDSP said behavioural changes such as the use of masks and restricted movement had led to a possible decline in several viral borne diseases, including H1N1, mumps and measles. “Distancing and lack of contact may have seen a decline in contagious diseases as well as say water borne infectious diseases,” he noted.
On Apri 24, the IDSP said nearly 9.45 lakh people from 734 districts were under surveillance for possible COVID-19.