AES fear grips Bihar ahead of scorching summers

At least three children have reportedly died of the disease this year  

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Friday 01 May 2020
Children suffering from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) admitted in Sri Krishna Medical College and hospital (SKMCH), in 2019. Photo: Prashant Ravi

Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) has fanned fear among the villagers and health officials of Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown. 

At least three children have reportedly died of the disease, locally known as chamki bukhar, in 2020.

In the last one month, at least 15 children diagnosed with AES were admitted in the government-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur. About half-a-dozen children suffering from the disease were admitted at different private hospitals.

SKMCH superintendent SK Shahi told Down to Earth that 11 had recovered and were discharged.

“The hospital is fully equipped to handle AES cases. The government is creating awareness among people to not ignore children showing symptoms of the disease,” he said. 

He added that the hospital has purchased all required medicines and that pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) were well-equipped to treat AES patients.

The first child to be admitted in the hospital with AES died in the last week of March. In April last week, twin sisters died at SKMCH during treatment. 

“Health workers have been visiting villages creating awareness and doctors have been requesting parents to bring children immediately after the onset of symptoms. First one or two hours can help minimise the rate of mortality,” Gopal Shankar Sahni, head of the SKMCH’s paediatric department, said.

Muzaffarpur district civil surgeon Shailendra Prasad Singh admitted there was a fear of AES but added the government was fully prepared to treat children.

Another senior district health official said the “situation may take a turn for worse in May, when the summer would be at peak.”

Usually, AES cases see a surge in May-June when the mercury touches 42 degrees Celsius mark.

Bihar has been witnessing a cooler weather since mid-April.

The AES cases brought to SKMCH were from Muzaffarpur, East Champaran,Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Samastipur and Sheohar districts, said a district official. “No fresh case has been reported since April 30,” he said.

Singh added vehicles have been tagged for swift transportation of children suffering from AES in 196 affected panchayats of Muzaffarpur.

Muzaffarpur district magistrate (DM) Chandrasekhar Singh said that the focus was to minimise the number of cases through mass awareness campaigns, immunisation and schemes to fight malnutrition among the children.

The government has decided to distribute packaged milk powder at anganwadi Kendra in the district.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, meanwhile, has officials to be on alert and check the spread of the disease.

“The CM has directed all district magistrates and health officials to involve ASHA workers and anganwadi workers to visit every house in the village to spread awareness,” said a district official.

Three days ago, the State Principal Secretary of Health Department Sanjay Kumar at a review meeting informed the CM that on the basis AES data, the department has prepared an SOP to save children.

He added that AES cases were mostly reported from the neighbouring districts and the Budhi Gandak river. Nearly 60 per cent cases were reported from Muzaffarpur alone and the remaining from 16 other districts.

He claimed that a 65 bed-AES ward was completed at SKMCH by April 30, and that an under-construction 100-bed PICUs at SKMCH would be made opened soon.

AES cases were reported from five north Bihar districts in 2019. More than 150 children died. More than 600 children suffering from AES were admitted in the hospitals including SKMCH and nearly 450 recovered.

More than 500 children have died in the last one decade due to AES, mainly in Muzaffarpur and its neighbouring districts of Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Samastipur, Sheohar, east and west Champaran.

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