Over 241 students from schools in Thimphu, Paro and Wangdue are undergoing medical treatment for chilblain.

These include students of Wangbama Central and Genekha Lower Secondary School (GLSS) in Thimphu, Betekha Middle Secondary School of Paro, and Phobjikha Central School in Wangdue.

Medical teams from respective dzongkhags and Basic Health Units have confirmed that the students are suffering from chilblain, which is a medical condition that cuases painful swelling of the skin that occurs in response to repeated exposure to cold weather.

Thimphu district health officer, Gyembo Dorji said that the outbreak was reported on March 17 from Wangbama Central School (WCS). However both school and health officials claim that the outbreak need not cause concern. “Students affected with chilblain are already being treated with symptomatic treatment since the report of the outbreak,” Gyembo Dorji said.

This is the first report of a chilblain outbreak in Thimphu schools.

The dzongkhag health officer said that no case of complication has been reported yet. “It is a non-communicable disease and should be cured through proper medication and keeping the body warm,” the dzongkhag health officer said, adding that the school authority and the health officials are monitoring the situation in the schools.

However, as of yesterday WCS still had few students suffering from chilblain.

Health officials attributed the outbreak to the cold weather, which became harsher with the recent snowfall.

WCS principal, Dorji Wangchuk said that there is nothing to worry about. “Everything is under control now,” he said.

As a preventive measure, the school has started providing heaters and water boilers in its classrooms. “We have also allowed students to wear jackets, mufflers and gloves, and for boys the school has even encouraged them to carry blankets to the classrooms to cover their limbs,” Dorji Wangchuk said.

The school is also conducting the morning, evening and night studies in the hostels instead of in classrooms.

Of the total 83 students suffering from mild chilblain in WCS and GLSS, 83 percent of them are girls. Betekha Middle Secondary School also reported an outbreak on March 17 with 72 students reportedly suffering from swollen hands and feet and rashes, all symptoms of chilblain.

Paro dzongkhag health officer Choki Wangmo said that the high altitude, snowfall, wind and extreme weather conditions led to the outbreak. “We have provided the affected students with treatment and educated them on the importance of keeping themselves warm,” she said.

A medical official said that the school was advised to ask the children to refrain from using cold water and playing in the snow. “We also asked the school to immediately provide heating systems, which was one of the reasons for the outbreak,” the health official said.

In Betekha, 90 percent of the 108 students suffering from chilblain were boarder students. “Boarder students were affected since there were no proper heating system,” the health official added.

As an interim measure, the school has been advised to allow students to wear jackets to keep themselves warm. In Betekha six new cases were reported yesterday and 30 on March 20.

In Wangdue, at least 50 students from Phobjikha Central School (PCS) were also reportedly suffering from chilblain. But in Phobjikha, the outbreak unlike Thimphu is not a new occurrence.

“At the moment we do not know the exact number since the medical officials are still examining the students,” a teacher from PCS who wished not to be named said.

But he said that the outbreak is not unusual since students have been suffering from chilblain for the past few years.

He said that at least 100 students suffered from chilblain in 2015 and 2016. “But nothing severe has happened to any of the infected students with timely medication and prevention measures,” he said.

Health officials were treating the infected students yesterday. In PCS, the school is providing students with salted hot water in the mornings and evenings for students to immerse their feet and hands. “We also advise children to wear socks and gloves to keep their feet and hands warm,” the teacher said.

The school also provides open fires to the children in the evenings since it does not have a proper heating system. “Some of the affected children and whose parents can afford to drop and pick up their children have been allowed to travel to school from home,” the teacher said.

Tempa Wangdi