The mystery virus striking children dead in eastern Uttar Pradesh has been diagnosed as ‘acute encephalitis syndrome’ by Union Health Ministry experts. Simply put, they do not know what is causing the acute brain fever.
Within weeks, about 800 cases and 150 deaths were reported from 13 districts in UP and experts predict that the numbers could rise.
“Less than 5 per cent blood and serum samples have tested positive for Japanese encephalitis (JE), which has seen major outbreaks in the region each year, said Dr Shiv Lal, Director, National Institute of Communicable Diseases.
“Usually, at least 15-20 per cent samples test positive for JE during an outbreak, but the low positivity is causing confusion this year.” With four crore children in 27 districts in UP being vaccinated against JE this year, experts wonder why the fever refuses to go away.
“There is no problem with the Chinese vaccine SA 14-14-2,” said a health ministry official. The virus, approved by World Health Organisation, protects against JE. “We suspect some children could have missed the vaccination drive.”
All the hospitalised children have reported symptoms of acute encephalitis. “Since less than 5 per cent have tested positive for JE, we are investigating whether the outbreak is a combination of JE and water-borne enterovirus that caused the disease in 2006,” said Dr Lal.
The Centre is sending a four-member team comprising a microbiologist, a paediatrician, an entomologist and an epidemiologist to Lucknow and Gorakhpur to track the outbreak and collect blood and serum samples from hospitalisd children for viral culture.
“Apart from rapid tests for JE done using kits developed by Pune’s National Institute of Virology, we will do virus culture to track the elusive cause of the current outbreak,” said Dr Lal, adding that the result could be expected within two or three days of collection of the samples.