Bihar's mysterious child-killer disease yet to be identified

Till last year the disease was termed as Japanese Encephalitis. Seventy-two children have so far died of it

By Salma Rehman
Published: Thursday 14 June 2012

The mysterious disease that has killed 72 children between the ages of one to 15 years in Bihar’s seven districts in the past fortnight has now been dubbed as Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) by the government. Till last year, the disease outbreak was being identified as Japanese Encephalitis (JE). JE virus is one of the many reasons for AES. The disease has been recurring in the state since 2005 and had killed 50 children last year.

Authorities say the disease was reclassified because the tests conducted so far have not identified the JE pathogen. 

Teams from National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, Rajendra Memorial Research Institute (RMRI) in Patna and National Centre for Disease Control in Delhi have set up camps in the affected areas—Muzaffarpur, West Champaran, East Champaran, Samastipur, Vaishali, Shivhar and Chintamani. and are investigating the disease.

B B Tandle of NIV, who is heading the team, says the samples of cerebrospinal fluid have been sent to the NIV headquarters. Results will be available in a couple of days. Similar samples were analysed last year. Though the pathogen was not identified, it had been established that the disease was not JE or any other water-borne enteroviral disease. Meanwhile, doctors are attributing the outbreak to excessive heat and humidity in the atmosphere.

Cases of AES in Bihar
Districts Total cases Deaths
Muzaffarpur 154 48
East Champaran 25 11
West Champaran 19 6
Shivhar 6 4
Samstipur 3 2
Chintamani 1 1
Vaishali 1 0
Total 209 72
Source: Health Department of Bihar. Data corresponds to cases reported till 4 pm on June 13


Moreover, majority of the patients this year belong to age group between one to five years. “Around 70 per cent of the patients belong to the age group of one to five years. Earlier, the disease used to affect children between the ages of 5 and 15 years,” says Braj Mohan, head of paediatrics department at Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur. Not only this, around 40 per cent of the cases had low levels of blood sugar. “Sodium content was also found to be low in many cases,” adds Mohan. In cases last year only symptoms like hallucinations and shortness of breath were observed.

Mohan says that the reason for the high number of fatalities is that people are not aware about the treatment. They try to take local treatment first and come to hospital late which complicates the case. “We are providing free facilities to such patients and also assisting other private hospitals,” he adds. He also informed that all block level doctors are taking help of anganwadi workers and ASHAs (accredited social health activists) to spread awareness. The state has also launched various campaigns. “We are educating people regarding sanitation and safe drinking water,” says A P Singh, civil surgeon, Muzzaffarpur. “We also suggest them measures like keeping wet towel should be placed on the forehead immediately in case of high fever.



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