Notifiable disease

Source: By Deccan Herald

Mucormycosis or 'black fungus', which is being found in a rising number of Covid-19 patients across India, has been declared a notifiable disease under the Epidemic Act 1897 in many states, including Telangana and Uttarakhand.

It is a rare but dangerous fungal infection caused by a group of moulds known as mucormycetes, which are present naturally in the environment. It has been a cause of panic for many states, even more so with AIIMS Director Dr Nikhil Tandon saying that it is airborne.

They cause serious complications only when a patient has pre-existing health conditions or has taken medications that compromise the immune system. But what does it mean to declare an infection a notifiable disease?

A notifiable disease is an illness that is required by law to be informed to government authorities. This is applicable to private establishments. This helps the government to form a bank of data about the disease and monitor it, which helps in providing early warnings about outbreaks. As per the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations, 1969, the disease has to be flagged to the WHO to help with its global surveillance and advisory role.

The responsibility to declare any disease as a 'notifiable' lays with the state governments.

Registered medical professionals need to notify such diseases in a proper form within three days, or notify verbally via phone within 24 hours depending on the urgency of the situation. This means that all government hospitals, private hospitals, laboratories, and clinics will have to report cases of the disease to the government.

This helps the government to track the disease and formulate a plan of action to tackle it.

Over the years, the Centre has notified many diseases including cholera, diphtheria, encephalitis, leprosy, meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough), plague, tuberculosis, AIDS, hepatitis, measles, yellow fever and malaria dengue.

India's Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 does not provide a clear definition of an epidemic. But generally, an epidemic is defined as a sudden increase in the number of cases of a particular disease, more than what is expected.