Japanese Encephalitis swept through much of Assam this year unlike in previous years when it was largely confined to Upper Assam.(Representative image/HT PHOTO)
Japanese Encephalitis swept through much of Assam this year unlike in previous years when it was largely confined to Upper Assam.(Representative image/HT PHOTO)

Japanese Encephalitis kills 154 in Assam, the highest since 2014

Assam’s health department will launch a state wide adult vaccination campaign in November covering all districts to combat Japanese Encephalitis.
Hindustan Times, Guwahati | By Sadiq Naqvi
PUBLISHED ON SEP 12, 2019 09:31 PM IST

Japanese Encephalitis has killed 154 people in Assam in 2019, the highest in five years officials said even as they claimed that the outbreak which peaked in July and August was subsiding and only a few fresh cases were reported in September.

A top state government official also said a state wide adult vaccination campaign will begin in November covering all districts after the Centre agreed to provide around 57 lakh vaccines.

“From November 15, we plan to start an intensive adult vaccination campaign covering the whole state. We plan to conclude it by March 15, 2020. The Centre has agreed to provide around 57 lakh vaccines. We will procure the rest on our own if there is a shortfall,” Samir Sinha, Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department said. The campaign is likely to be announced in a week.

On Thursday, while no fresh JE cases were reported, one person from Kamrup (Rural) succumbed to the disease that is spread by Culex mosquito, according to the daily bulletin from the office of JVN Subramanyam, Director, National Health Mission, (NHM) Assam.

The state recorded 614 JE positive cases in 2015, 427 in 2016, 605 in 2017 and 509 in 2018. In 2015, the number of deaths due to JE stood at 135, in 2016 the number came down to 92 and further decreased to 87 in 2017. In 2018 the state saw 94 deaths due to the vector borne disease. In 2014, the state recorded 165 deaths due to Japanese Encephalitis.

The bulletin from NHM said till September 12, the total number of persons who have been affected by JE stood at 630 out of which 154 people have died. While 13 persons who died belonged to Goalpara, 11 came from Kamrup (Rural), the two neighbouring districts in lower Assam where maximum fatalities have been recorded this year. Kokrajhar, in Bodo Territorial Administrative District has not reported any JE positive case for the first time in the last six years even as the rest of the state has been affected in 2019 outbreak.

“Since the last four, five years were relatively calm and quiet, this year the peripheral workers seemed to be reluctant to perform their field duties properly. During my visit to Goalpara, I found that peripheral workers did not attend to cases of fever initially,” said CR Pathak, State Programme Officer of the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, explaining how the lax attitude of the ground staff may have added to the late detection and higher fatalities.

Pathak pointed out another reason and explained how a lot of ground staff, the multipurpose workers were involved in National Register of Citizens (NRC) duty. “I am sure the NRC authorities also did not know that the outbreak would be severe this year. We recalled the workers in July,” he said.

Health officials also introduced urgent measures like fogging, blood sample collection of all cases of fever and sending all suspected JE cases for proper tests, treatment at civil hospitals and medical colleges among others.

“Post July the number of fresh cases have been on a decline,” said Pathak.

Sinha said, “The last ten deaths are all old cases.” In September, only four fresh cases have been recorded in the state. Unlike previous years when the disease was mostly confined to Upper Assam and North Assam, the whole state was affected this time, he said.

He said analysis also showed that the adults constituted almost 80% of the casualties.

“The writing on the wall is clear. Vaccination of persons in the age group of 15-65 is the way forward to contain it,” Sinha said.

While the entire state has been covered under the JE vaccination campaign for children, 14 have been covered under the adult vaccination campaign in a phased manner. Officials point out the coverage latter has not been satisfactory for a multitude of reasons including rumours about the effects of the vaccine.

Records show even vaccination is not a foolproof way to stop the outbreak. “This year, too, 15-20 percent of the casualties would be from the section which had been given JE vaccination. We know that JE vaccine is effective in around 85% of the cases and depends on immunity of the persons among other factors,” said Pathak.

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