It was almost twenty years back that I was self-introduced to the wonderful world of viruses. While I was looking at rabies virus (as there are few viruses that have retained near 100 % fatality rate in those infected), I had chanced about one of its not too well know cousin, the Chandipura virus.
As it was a time and age where science was not only about hating Trump (or Modi as per your nationality) and spade was a spade and not a “contrivance often bestowed upon the role of serving as a hand-held excavator”, a lot of animals were named without suffering from liberal bouts of Stockholm syndrome.
It was more common to find names like Crimean-Congo virus, Marburg virus or Hantavirus, each named after geographical location without evoking of “virus has no nationality” in line of “terrorism has no religion”!
So, when I discovered Chandipura vesiculovirus, the arguably most confusing virus, instead of bothering about how offending its name is, I was amazed to realise that I had probably chanced upon the news that we have a time-bomb in our midst and no one really knew about it!
I am particular fond of Chandipura virus as it made me discover the dark but morbidly fascinating world of arboviruses (that use insect vectors), mosquitoes and not to mention the only editor who saw that it was a subject worthy of print media!
As I did to my editor and scare him to allow me start a part-time career in journalism, I invite you to meet our home-grown hero that can provide Bollywood with an even more scary theme for our local “Contagion”.
The reason why Chandipura can do better is because the virus in the movie “Contagion” had a mortality rate of 25-30 % (if I can depend on Wikipedia page), while our local hero has LIKELY fatality rate of 55 to 75%, and as we all love kids-linked melodrama in our movies, Chandipura seems to predominantly affects children in the age group of 2 to 16 years.
While above information about Chandipura is in public domain, I would also like to add a rejoinder that, even though this pathogen is recognised by Bhatt, P. N. ; Rodrigues, F. M. in their paper in IJMR (December 1967). “Chandipura: A new Arbovirus Isolated in India from Patients with Febrile Illness”, the most interesting part is that we still mostly in dark about what it does and has it been a cause of death of hundreds, and possibly thousands of children or not, because it hasn’t really managed to attract attention of India.
Chandipura virus is a great example of what awaits us in future and how unprepared we are about this and many other deadly pathogens that have already evolved and are lurking in the background for a chance.
While HxNx or corona group of pathogens are more noticeable because they use contact and airborne route and hence find massive expression when they manage to break out, in most cases, these viruses are nothing compared to the mortality rates that likes of Chandipuras can offer.
As a relative of 100 % fatal rabies virus, the dice is loaded in favour of Chandipura to be highly fatal and what makes it really scary is that at present it is believed to be favouring sandflies, but Scientists of VRC/NIV had isolated it on various occasions from none other than our dear Aedes egypti mosquitoes.
If we look at Indian cities that thanks to our absurd love for water are now turned in mosquito havens that haemorrhagic viruses like dengue and chikungunya are already enjoying by ridding piggyback on rising populations of Aedes egypti, it is clear that we are sitting ducks if Chandipura decides to take a round on the Mosquito Rapid Transport System (MRTS) that we have installed in every city.
If that possibility becomes a reality, this coronavirus epidemic will start looking like a walk in the park, as Chnadipura has potential to make us experience a plague from the dark ages.
For years, I have kept writing (and meeting every possible authority) in hope that India will recognise the power of biology and have at least one Center of Excellence dedicated to Vector-borne Disease with BSL IV lab but have failed to impress, but I hope that what my not-too well drafted articles and letters could not do will be done by coronavirus that has come and offered a much needed Proof of Concept for Department of Science and Technology to consider.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.