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No clues yet on mystery virus

After two months and 103 deaths, the identity of the virus that has struck in Saharanpur and neighbouring areas still remains a mystery.
PTI | By Sanchita Sharma, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON NOV 19, 2004 01:46 AM IST

After two months and 103 deaths, the identity of the virus that has struck in Saharanpur and neighbouring areas still remains a mystery.

Three weeks after collecting samples from infected people, microbiologists at two premier research institutes have still not identified the virus that killed 103 people, mainly children. With a total of 146 reported cases, Saharanpur has been the worst affected. But what scientists say they do know is what did not cause the deaths.

"We've ruled out Japanese encephalitis, herpes simplex virus, measles, dengue and West Nile virus. We can work only by eliminating possibilities, as the picture is confusing. While clinical symptoms indicate Japanese Encephalitis, the lab report shows that it isn't JE," said an official of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), which is one of two the national laboratories tracking the cause of the outbreak. The other laboratory is the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune.

"Viral growth is evident but virus isolation and identification takes time. We know it is viral encephalitis as the virus affects the brain. We're not in a position to say whether it is a new virus as some more viruses, like enterovirus, need to be ruled out still," said the official.

Though the deaths were first reported in Saharanpur on September 26, the district administration took a month to link the scattered deaths and informed the Centre on October 25. Blood and fluid samples were collected for testing from October 26, with the last batch of samples being collected on October 30.

"Microbiologists at NICD and NIV had very few working days in the past months and so it's taken longer than expected. It could be anything," said an official from the Indian Council of Medical Research, which is the coordinating body for the two institutes.

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The guessing game

** Doctors rule out Japanese Encephalitis, dengue

** It's viral encephalitis but which virus, they can't say

** Virus has killed 103 people

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