The cases of Conjunctivitis, the infection that affects the eyes, are rising at an alarming rate across the country. Several regions in the country like Delhi-NCR, Gujarat, Maharashtra etc have reported mass spreading of the disease, which coincided with the floods during the ongoing monsoon session.
Conjunctivitis is mostly caused by viruses, and it is a seasonal disease like flu and is seen spread during the monsoon. It causes the eye to turn red along with itching, and discharge. Although the disease is not sight-threatening, it is a painful condition. The disease is highly contagious.
Conjunctivitis is generally known as the pink-eye disease, but in various regions of the world, it is known by various names. Some of such names are highly unusual, and one such name is, ‘Jay Bangla’. Yes, in West Bengal and Assam in India, the disease is generally known as ‘Jai Bangla’, the slogan hailing Bengal.
There is an interesting history of why and how the disease got this peculiar name, and it is linked to the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 when the ‘Jai Bangla’ slogan was widely used.
In 1971, the Conjunctivitis disease widely spread in West Bengal including Calcutta (now Kolkata). At that time, the Bangladesh liberation war was going on, and it caused a mass immigration of Bangladeshis from Bangladesh into India through the porous border. Many such Bangladeshis were infected with Conjunctivitis, and from them the disease spread quickly in India, turning into an epidemic.
While West Bengal was affected the most, the disease spread to several states in India and is recorded as one of the major epidemics of the disease.
As the slogan ‘Jai Bangla’ was very popular at that time due to the war, people started to use the term to refer to this eye disease.
From then, the name got stuck, and Conjunctivitis is still called Jai Bangla in West Bengal and Assam.
Apollo 11 to Haj pilgrims in Bombay
Another interesting name given to the disease is Apollo 11. In 1969, there was a major outbreak of acute haemorrhagic conjunctivitis, a more severe form of the disease, in West Africa. When the disease first appeared in Ghana, it coincided with the first moon landing under the Apollo 11 mission of NASA. Therefore, the disease was called Apollo 11 disease, and this name is still used in the region to refer to the disease.
Next year, there were two outbreaks of the disease in Java and Indonesia, and the disease appeared in 1971 first in Bombay before the outbreak in Calcutta. Incidentally, the disease came to Bombay with Haj Pilgrims, who had returned from Mecca and had mingled with the infected Indonesians during the Haj.
Later that year, the Conjunctivitis disease entered India with East Pakistanis escaping the war, and became ‘Jai Bangla’. From West Bengal, the disease spread all over India.
How to prevent getting infected
As Conjunctivitis is an infectious disease, it can be prevented with precautions. And several precautions are similar to the familiar precautions taken to prevent Covid-19 infection. Frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the eyes are key to prevention. Avoiding contact with people with the disease, avoiding crowded places and avoiding touching common objects like railings or handles are also important.
People who have been infected are advised to use dark goggles, avoid swimming, avoid close contact with others, and not touch their eyes.