Help­ing doc­tors save lives

SAM­PLING IT RIGHT Mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists as­sist doc­tors in di­ag­nos­ing in­fec­tious dis­eases caused by micro­organ­isms which are in­vis­i­ble to the naked eye

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - HT Education - - Front Page - Rozelle Laha

Dr Chand Wat­tal com­pleted his MBBS from Govern­ment Med­i­cal Col­lege, Srinagar, Kash­mir and signed up for an MD in 1980. He joined the state med­i­cal ser­vices and served in the ru­ral pri­mary health cen­tre as a doctor in Lar, Ganderbal district of Kash­mir.

This is where he de­vel­oped an in­ter­est for med­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy while treat­ing pa­tients with in­fec­tious dis­eases from ab­scesses to sca­bies.

“A per­son with hy­per­ten­sion, di­a­betes or stroke can never be cured com­pletely, they can only be treated. But, in­fec­tious dis­eases (like pneu­mo­nia, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, ab­scesses, os­teomyeli­tis, menin­gi­tis etc), on the other hand, can be cured with timely di­ag­no­sis fol­lowed by proper treat­ment and med­i­ca­tion,” he says.

But there were no spe­cific med­i­cal cour­ses avail­able in In­dia that time to train peo­ple in treat­ing in­fec­tious dis­eases. He, there­fore, de­cided to take up a course in med­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy (now clin­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy). “There are still no MD cour­ses avail­able in in­fec­tious dis­eases, ex­cept clin­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy,” he says.

Wat­tal j oi ned PGIMER, Chandi­garh, to pur­sue his MD, fol­low­ing which he did his se­nior res­i­dency and taught in a med­i­cal school as an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor. He later joined Sir Ganga Ram Hospi­tal as honorary con­sul­tant and has been work­ing there for 25 years now.

Mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy is the study of micro­organ­isms like bac­te­ria, viruses, par­a­sites and fungi. As a sub­ject, it has two spe­cial­i­sa­tions – ba­sic mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy and clin­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy. Ba­sic mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists work in dif­fer­ent food in­dus­tries and food pro­cess­ing units, vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ing units, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals for man­u­fac­tur­ing drugs, bio­engi­neer­ing, biotech­nol­ogy and teach­ing in ba­sic sci­ences col­leges. Any­one with a non-med­i­cal de­gree (BSc, MSc or PhD) in biotech­nol­ogy can be­come a ba­sic mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist.

Those with an MBBS de­gree can be­come clin­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists. Clin­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy deals with all micro­organ­isms that cause hu­man dis­eases. Spe­cial­ists are equipped to work in any field where ba­sic mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists work and ad­di­tion­ally spe­cialise in di­ag­nos­ing in­fec­tious dis­eases.

So, how im­por­tant is their role in health­care? Re­cently, a pa­tient (who had worked in a dairy farm) vis­ited a neu­ro­sur­geon com­plain­ing of pain in his lower limbs. On ex­am­i­na­tion, it was found that there was a lump in his lower back (lum­bosacral re­gion). He was re­ferred to an or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon for fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion who di­ag­nosed an in­fec­tious lump around the spinal cord. The pa­tient was op­er­ated upon and the ab­scess was sent to the depart­ment of clin­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy for in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ex­plains Wat­tal.

The pa­tient was pre­sump­tively put on anti-tu­ber­cu­lar treat­ment for pos­si­ble tu­ber­cu­lo­sis of the spine whereas the re­al­ity was dif­fer­ent. “The ad­di­tional cul­tures and blood tests re­vealed that there was a dif­fer­ent kind of bac­te­ria caus­ing this dis­ease, and it turned out to be bru­cel­losis (an in­fec­tion caused by bac­te­ria that is trans­mit­ted from an­i­mals to hu­mans),” says Wat­tal.

This proved one thing. With­out help from a pro­fes­sional clin­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist, ap­pro­pri­ate de­tec­tion and treat­ment of any in­fec­tious dis­ease is im­pos­si­ble for any doctor. As for fu­ture growth in the field, there will al­ways be a re­quire­ment for mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists in­volved in pub­lic health, en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing, and in lab­o­ra­tory set­tings.

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