Ranchi, March 23 : Rumours of small pox resurfacing in Jharkhand turned out to be false with health officials Wednesday categorically rejecting the claims of local media and attributing the false news to superstitious beliefs.

Jharkhand had rushed doctors to Gumla district to verify reports that small pox - a contagious disease believed to have been eradicated from the world - had resurfaced and killed three people there.

However, Jharkhand health secretary A.K. Sarkar told IANS that initial investigation revealed that it was a case of chicken pox and no evidence or symptoms of smallpox were found.

He said that efforts were being made to ascertain the cause, and microbiological tests would be conducted on the samples taken from the site.

Gumla's civil surgeon A.D.N. Prasad and his team of doctors went to the affected village where three people had lost their lives.

Prasad said that in a state like Jharkhand, superstition reigns supreme amongst the villagers.

He agreed that there were three deaths within a week, but emphatically added that not one was due to smallpox.

According to Prasad, a 15-year-old boy, who had eruptions on his body and face, was suffering from convulsions leading to chicken pox. As his parents refused to give him any medicine on the superstition that it would anger the 'goddess’, he ultimately died.

The other two deaths were not even related to chicken pox but due to totally different reasons, he said.

The village head had spread the fear amongst the villagers that the ‘goddess’ was in great anger and that resulted in smallpox resurfacing.

The rumours of resurfacing of the disease was raising questions about the eradication programme and causing panic in Jharkhand's rural belt. Small pox was said to have been totally eradicated from the world as per reports published by the World Health Organization (WHO) a decade ago.

According to health department sources, immunisation for small pox was stopped in many countries, such as the US, in 1972. In 1979, WHO recommended that vaccination against small pox be stopped in all countries, the only exception being special groups, such as researchers working with smallpox and related viruses.

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