Acute Encephalitis Syndrome strikes north Bihar again, 2 children dead

Children with AES symptoms visiting regularly: Supreintendent of SKMC Hospital, Muzaffarpur

By C K Manoj
Published: Friday 20 September 2019

Two children have died after a fresh bout of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) struck north Bihar again this week, an official has confirmed. 

“Children afflicted with AES are coming to the hospital at regular intervals but only two have died in the past one week,” Sunil Kumar Shahi, superintendent of the state-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur, said over the phone on September 20, 2019.

SKMCH is the only advanced medical facility equipped to treat encephalitis cases in the district, which has been the centre of AES cases earlier this year.

So far, health experts had been primarily blaming litchis that grow abundantly in Muzaffarpur district to be behind the spread of AES. However, its sudden outbreak in September, when the litchi season had been long over, has confused and confounded them.

“Hypoglycemia, excessive heat and malnutrition could be the reasons behind the AES strike but we can’t give the exact reason. Research is on,” Shahi said.

He added: “At present, 12 children are admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit of the SKMCH. They suffer from convulsions and sudden bouts of high fever, which are similar to the AES. While tests have confirmed three of them are suffering from AES, the pathological tests of other children are being conducted to ascertain the cause.”

According to him, 30 cases were reported in July, 18 in August while at least 12 cases have been reported this month. In all, 647 cases have been reported from this year out of which 161 children died.

Meanwhile, media reports have claimed that the number of children who have died is eight.

‘I told you so’

Director of the National Research Centre on Litchi, Vishal Nath said litchis had never been the reason behind the AES epidemic and the sudden outbreak of this disease at this time had proved that.

“It’s the health experts who have to find out what are the exact causes of this mystery disease but it is now very much confirmed that litchis have no connection with this disease,” Nath said on September 20, asserting that he had been saying this for long.

“Litchis contain no any elements that could harm the children; rather it is a nutrient,” he said adding the fruit was being grown in Muzaffarpur for the past 200-300 years but this disease had come to light only recently.

Muzaffarpur civil surgeon Shailesh Prasad Singh said the local administration had launched a massive awareness campaign in the district to make the people aware of this disease and its preventive measures.

“Through the campaign, the villagers are being constantly told not to allow their children to play under the sun, to save them from humidity and make sure their children take their food before going to bed at night,” Singh said.

According to him, one of the major causes of AES outbreaks could be malnutrition. “We have opened a 20-bed Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre at the Sadar hospital and regularly admitted children suffering from malnutrition for their treatment. Currently, 16 children are undergoing treatment there,” Singh said.

Health officials said the suspected encephalitis had been striking the region since 1995 but in the past nine years, it had claimed 474 lives in the state and yet, it was still to be fully identified and brought under control. 

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