Fungal skin infections have triggered panic among the people of two villages in the western district of Chuadanga.
More than 150 people, including women and children, have been infected with the disease in the last few years at the Ratirampur and Rangiyarpota villages.
The panic took a turn for the worst following the death of a woman in Ratirampur, reportedly from the skin infection, despite undergoing extensive treatment for around five years.
Minhajul Abedin, son of the deceased, said, "My mother got infected with the skin disease around five years ago. She did not recover despite treatment at various hospitals. She died this year."
He said he too had contracted the disease but was cured after treatment.
In an effort to ease the panic, medical experts have meanwhile said the disease is curable and nobody would die if they take regular treatment.
Medical experts and locals said round scars develop on different parts of the body of the infected patients.
According to the Chuadanga health department, physicians have identified the disease as irritant contact dermatitis – a condition that turns skin red or inflames it after contact with an allergen.
Health officials said there is nothing to be worried about as the infection can be fully cured through treatment. On behalf of the civil surgeon's office, medical experts will work in the villages to prevent the disease.
The cause of the disease
Ratirampur village has a large pond where people from both the villages bathe. The water is polluted by cattle dung and people come into contact with the allergens causing the disease when they bathe there.
Fatema Khatun of Rangiarpota village said, "At first rashes developed on my body. Then round scars developed and spread throughout the body. My body itches and the situation gets worse during summer. The infection cannot be cured despite taking prescribed medication."
Karim Sheikh, a resident of Ratirampur, said, "The infection appeared on my hand six months ago. Later, it spread to my entire body."
He added that other members of his family have also been infected with the disease. "We cannot afford medicines on a regular basis. We cannot go outside with the skin diseases. Many people try to avoid us and that is why we try to stay indoors."
Halima Khatun, an elderly woman from Ratirampur, said those affected with the disease should be provided with free treatment by the government as the poor people could not afford the medication.
Civil Surgeon Dr ASM Maruf Hasan said a medical team was formed to find out the reason behind the infection.
"In the primary report of an investigation, it has primarily been identified that the people are getting infected with fungal and skin diseases after taking bath at a village pond," he said.
"There is nothing to panic about. Patients get cured with regular treatment. The Chuadanga medical department will provide all types of support in this regard."
He ruled out the possibility of people dying from the infection.
Dr Rafiqul Islam, a family planning officer at Jibannagar Upazila Health Complex, said the infected people are provided with regular treatment at the hospital.
"But we do not have enough supply of medicines at this moment. However, the medicine crisis will be over soon."
Abul Kalam Azad, chairman of Uthali union Parishad in Jibannagar, said the villagers have been forbidden from taking bath in the pond.
"I have informed the authorities concerned about the matter."