7 Contagious Diseases Associated with Horse Excreta Contaminating Drinking Water of Venna Lake, Haunt Mahabaleshwar: Gokhale Institute Report
That the drinking water contamination in Mahabaleshwar is due to horse excreta entering Venna lake has been established by the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE) in its health risk assessment research report which mentions seven contagious diseases caused by animal waste; all of these are present in the patients’ medical records of the Red Cross Hospital (RCH), Mahabaleshwar and private clinics.
The study report states that “Horse excreta have bacteria and viruses that show symptoms of gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, rotavirus cases among children, acute respiratory infection (ARI) and; dermatological cases of fungal and ringworm infections. All these diseases were prevalent among horse handlers (skin infections in particular) and in patients consulting in private clinics or admitted in the Red Cross Hospital.”
Hence, Dr Priti Mastakar, head of the research team of GIPE, which conducted a study for over a period of three months since May 2023, explains, “As per the data shared by the hospitals and clinics, the contagious diseases were found in their (patients’) medical records that could be connected with the horse excreta contaminating the drinking water.”
The quantitative data analysis was based on the medical records of the government hospital RCH from the year 2019 to 2022. The research team visited the hospital and studied the data for the months of high footfall, that is. April to August and then November as this would give the highest exposure of patients to the diseases, both local and floating populations.
When the data was divided between the seven contagious diseases associated with contaminated drinking water, says Dr Mastakar, she found the following:
Diarrhoea has been prevalent since 2019. This disease can be caused by rotavirus, norovirus, E. coli, or parasites (NHS, 2023). It was found that, singularly, till the year 2022, there were only cases of diarrhoea; no gastritis or any other disease.
In 2019, though data on high footfall months of April and May is missing, one finds evidence of diarrhoea.
In April and May of 2020, there is a spike in the diarrhoea cases. Though June data is missing, July still shows an increased number of cases, slightly lower than the high visiting tourist season of May.
In November 2020, diarrhoea cases are less; yet, present.
In 2021, there is a gradual increase in diarrhoea cases April onwards, with the highest in June and November again.
The year 2022 shows a record increase in diarrhoea cases. They spike in May, go to a record high in June, taper down in August and spike again in November, though not as high.
If we look at the morbidity, it is the highest in May-June 2022, and in November. Approximately 50% morbidity was seen in 2022 indicating the strength of the bacteria or virus responsible for the medical cases. 
The male-to-female ratio shows at least 40% more infections in males, morbidity seems to be similar for both genders. 
Before 2022, there is no evidence of gastroenteritis in Mahabaleshwar.
These conclusions match the opinion of Dr Deshmukh, the medical superintendent at the RCH and medical records of RCH, Mahabaleshwar.
Gastroenteritis and Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) Have Hit Mahabaleshwar since 2022
These diseases, which appeared in 2022, are currently prevalent in Mahabaleshwar, as is evident in data sourced from other clinics too besides RCH. Also, there is a spike in cases in November. 
States Dr Mastakar, providing medical references, “The most common way to develop stomach flu is through contact with an infected person or by ingesting contaminated food or water (Apollo Hospitals, 2023). The main gastroenteritis causes include viruses, bacteria, parasites, chemicals, medications, and bacterial toxins (Gleneagles, 2023). 
“Acute respiratory infection (ARI) cases also started in 2022, this is quite unusual as Covid occurred in 2019-20 and cases came two years afterward. 
“Rotavirus is observed among children. Typhoid cases have been an occasional every month. Dysentery has also been occasional. Dermatological cases were not reported in the hospital but reported in private clinics.”
According to Dr Deshmukh, the medical superintendent at RCH, quoted in the research report, “There were sporadic cases of gastro, single cases of typhoid (salmonella), rare cases of dengue and malaria. Multiple gastro cases were related to food poisoning. Acute cases were sent to Satara in the absence of micro-bacterial infections as no testing facility was available in Mahabaleshwar.”
Dr Deshmukh has provided some disturbing information. It is as follows:
Water and non-vegetarian food are the main causes of gastroenteritis. Norms of food providers like restaurants and hotels were lax he said and even after the hill station municipal council had been warned, there was no strict action against them resulting in the spread of disease. 
The food-providers stored non-veg food in freezers for weeks, it was common for electricity to go off; in the absence of generators as costs for maintaining and diesel were high, the food was putrefied. 
To add to this, unfinished food was put back in the fridge to be re-served; it was contaminated too, so the contaminated food was again served to the population resulting in gastroenteritis cases. Rota virus, salmonella of two types, Elta Vibro, with fever and one with no fever, intestines getting swollen were prevalent. 
Food-handlers, who could be carriers with no symptoms, would be the cause of the spread of disease along with coughing cooks, and food handlers with no hygiene. These microbials are thermophilic, that is they do not die with heat; hence, the spread of disease. 
Gola, a crushed ice street dessert, is also allowed to be sold, but there is no control by the municipality.
The floating population of tourists with their demand for restaurant food exposed them to these viruses and bacteria. 
The nurse, sister Sonali Chormale, shared the medical records with GIPE (with permission). She said there were high gastro cases in 2023. She also felt the increase in seasonal cases in the monsoons.
Visits by the GIPE research team to private clinics in Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani revealed that in children, the data of diseases pertained probably due to zoonotic origin. The report states that health risk is very high among children. There were two main paediatricians, one in Mahabaleshwar and one in Panchgani who commonly get patients suffering from gastritis, diarrhoea and rotavirus. More importantly, states the report, “A vaccination for rotavirus has been made and administered by the government hospital, and all children vaccinated, however, even then the children get affected with the virus and the cases go into morbidity with much suffering.”
Dr Alaka Thoke, MBBS, practising since the 1970s, stated to the research team that “Gastritis occurred due to food and water contamination, there were fungal and ringworm cases; and diarrhoea from March to June cases were frequent, reduced after June. There is a definite correlation of horse excreta with disease, since dry horse excreta flies into the air resulting in respiratory infections.”
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(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)
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