Toll from Indian encephalitis outbreak reaches 460

The death toll from Japanese encephalitis rose to 460 in a northern Indian state after 28 more people died overnight from an outbreak of the mosquito-born disease, officials said on Monday.

More than 500 patients, mostly children, were being treated in government hospitals across Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state and among its poorest. Japanese encephalitis is spread from pigs to humans by mosquitos.

At least 28 people died overnight on Monday, most of them children, said DP Mishra, a state health official.

Children are more susceptible to the disease and most of the dead in the outbreak have been under age 15.

Public health workers and medical volunteers have stepped up a campaign to vaccinate the state’s 7,5-million children, officials said.

However, doctors in the state capital, Lucknow, said health authorities were not doing enough to stop the spread of the disease.

“The situation is really bad. Children are dying without medicine while the officials look unconcerned,” said Dr TN Dhole, a top doctor in the city’s Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences.

Japanese encephalitis causes high fever and vomiting and can sometimes lead to coma and death.
It is spread by mosquitos that breed in ponds and in water puddles left by annual monsoon rains that run from June through September.

At least 18 of the latest dead were from the worst-hit Gorakhpur district, 250km southeast of Lucknow, Mishra said.

Hospitals in Gorakhpur were overflowing with patients.

“The encephalitis ward is full to its capacity, [but] still we are admitting children,” said Dr Lalit Saxena, a government doctor from Gorakhpur.

State health authorities have ordered free treatment for all patients in government hospitals, but doctors said people were admitting their children only when their condition became serious.

“Many parents are bringing the children at the last stage. We are giving them antibiotics to save them from secondary infections,” Dr Saxena. “We cannot do anything more than that.” - Sapa-AP