The number of children who have died of encephalitis in West Bengal's Malda district has reached 19, an official said on Monday.
"At least 19 children have died of encephalitis from June 3 to 16. The last death was reported Saturday night," M.A. Rashid, vice principal-cum-superintending officer, Malda Medical College and Hospital (MMCH), told IANS.
The children, aged between two and four years, died due to swelling of the brain (encephalitis), according to the doctors at the MMCH.
Rashid said as many as 46 children were admitted to the hospital.
They exhibited a sudden onset of fever, convulsions and died within five to six hours of the appearance of the symptoms.
"We have instructed parents to wash fruits thoroughly before consuming them," he said.
Initial reports suggested a purported viral infection associated with litchi fruits resulted in the casualties. Local health workers have labelled the occurrence as 'litchi syndrome' while experts are ascertaining the causative organism.
A team of experts from Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine visited the area last week and collected samples which have been sent to the National Institute Of Virology, Pune, for further tests.
The researchers are in the process of determining the exact cause of encephalitis-related deaths.