a mystery fever has hit Saharanpur and its neighbouring districts in western Uttar
Pradesh. By October 15, the disease had afflicted 52 children, of whom 29 succumbed. Over the past two decades, outbreaks of this disease have
occurred between the months of September and November in western up. Though health experts have carried out
several investigations, they are yet to identify the cause of the disease.
A group of doctors had earlier suggested that the disease could have been caused by consumption of the beans of a local weed, Cassia occidentalis (locally called kasondi or panwad). They had communicated the findings of their study to state authorities (see 'A podful of encephalopathy', Down To Earth, September 15, 2007).
"We have asked the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (nicd) to send a team to verify the findings," says Vijay Shankar Nigam, joint director, department of communicable diseases, Lucknow.
Doctors in Saharanpur district hospital confirmed that 40 per cent of the patients had consumed the beans. District administration officials say they are taking necessary steps to raise awareness about the weed as part of the government's vector-control programme, along with weed-control measures. However, the weed is too profuse to be eradicated, says B L Agarwal, chief medical officer of Saharanpur.
The efforts, however, appear half-hearted. "Instead of trying to raise awareness about the plant, the authorities are still trying to figure out the virus," says Vipin Vashishtha, one of the authors of the study, which had shown that the plant could be responsible. "The deaths can still be averted if there is a consistent effort to control the weed," he adds.
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