Posted: 23 Jun 2011 11:40 PM PDT
PATNA, India (AlertNet) – A “mystery disease” has swept across parts of eastern India, killing at least 24 children and two adults over the past 10 days, a government official said on Wednesday.
Doctors treating patients in the state of Bihar have not yet been able to identify the disease, authorities said, but the illness shows symptoms similar to the encephalitis virus.
“As per our information, 24 children have died of the mystery disease at government hospitals, but I can't say how many have died at home,” Bihar's Health Secretary Amarjeet Sinha told AlertNet. “More than 40 children are still undergoing treatment at various hospitals in the state.”
This is not the first time the illness has been reported, said Sinha, adding that there have been cases around May and June every year over the last few years. However, the number of deaths was much higher this year, he said.
Viral encephalitis is inflammation of the brain and symptoms include high fever, headache, sensitivity to light, a stiff neck and back, vomiting, confusion and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma, according to the World Health Organization.
Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk from the virus most commonly transmitted through insect bites.
Officials said the children who died – aged between two and eight years old across five districts of northern Bihar – had displayed high fever and bouts of unconsciousness as well as convulsions.
Local television pictures showed children lying restlessly on hospital beds and on the ground, and quoted parents complaining about the delayed response from local authorities.
“The preliminary investigation by local health experts has found that it's not encephalitis,” said Sinha, adding that a more thorough investigation was being conducted with the help of medical teams from India’s National Institute of Virology
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