Times of India
29 September 2010
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India
Does the winter fog carry deadly antibiotic resistant germs? Is it safe for patients suffering from HIV or TB to travel during winter in India? Is the fog around a hospital more dangerous, if at all, than that enveloping an airport?
In a first–of–its–kind study in the country, leading scientists have joined hands to resolve the mystery behind seasonal fog, and whether it can cause serious harm to human health.
The committee looking at the health effects of winter fog and whether it varies across Indian cities is being headed by professor Sarman Singh, head of clinical microbiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The panel also includes scientists from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), PGI (Chandigarh), SGPGI (Lucknow), Himachal Medical College and Jalandhar Medical College.
The study, which will begin this winter, aims to come out with the first round of data by April 2011.
Speaking to TOI, Dr Singh said, this is part of a larger long–term study being conducted by the ministry of earth sciences on the phenomenon of fog every winter.
"We want to study fog at various heights and temperatures. We will analyse the fog water at various heights, and see whether it carries fungi, bacteria and viruses. If they do, at what levels they are there and at what level they are not. This way, we will be able to predict till what level fog is contaminated," Mr Singh explained.
"If fog water is found to be contaminated, we will isolate and study all possible organisms and pathogens and find out what drugs they are susceptible to and whether any of them are drug resistant," he added.
According to Dr Singh, one of the major findings will be to decode the various opportunistic pathogens in fog and patients, who have undergone organ transplant, or are suffering from HIV and TB, and consequently are at a greater risk of being affected.
"If they are opportunistic pathogens, we will see whether some sections of society are more vulnerable to them. If they are, then we will be able to advise whether such people should travel during foggy months or stay indoors," Dr Singh said.
The committee will submit plans of establishing a centre of excellence to carry out the long–term study and analyse the data.
"We will also have to submit study protocols soon. The first stage of the study with initial data should be available by April 2011. We are also going to look at fog in almost all Indian states, and whether they are different in character. We will see if the fog that hovers around a hospital is different to the one that envelopes an airport," Dr Singh said.
According to Dr Shailesh Nayak, secretary, ministry of earth sciences, "Widespread and thick fog in winter affects the economy at large. It disrupts transportation facilities and increases health hazards. An expert committee has been set up to study the different aspects of fog its influence on health and transportation and how these problems can be tackled."
Dr V S Rao Chintala, a scientist with the ministry, said, "We will investigate all aspects of fog. It will include the study of the component of fog including what causes fog, how it can be controlled, which areas experience heavy fog and what material can be developed to disperse fog and ensure smooth flow of traffic."
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