Un­der mys­te­ri­ous threat

About 100 chil­dren in Odisha's tribal district of Malka­n­giri have died of vi­ral en­cephali­tis in the past two months. Is the state emerg­ing as an­other hot­bed of acute en­cephali­tis syn­drome?


ODISHA IS emerg­ing as an­other hot­bed of vi­ral en­cephali­tis, a dis­ease that causes sud­den deaths in chil­dren or leaves them in a state of delir­ium for­ever. Data with the Di­rec­torate of National Vec­tor Borne Dis­ease Con­trol Pro­gramme (nvb­dcp), Delhi, shows that 748 chil­dren in Odisha suf­fered from acute en­cephali­tis syn­drome (aes) be­tween Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber this year; 70 of them suc­cumbed to it. At least 121 chil­dren con­tracted a se­vere form of aes, known as Ja­panese En­cephali­tis (JE).

The sit­u­a­tion is par­tic­u­larly grave in the tribal district of Malka­n­giri, where the dis­ease had claimed the lives of 100-odd chil­dren till the mag­a­zine went to press on Novem­ber 7.

Such high num­ber of aes cases just in two months has left health ex­perts in the state per­plexed. “Un­like sev­eral other states, aes is not en­demic to Odisha,” says San­tanu Ku­mar Kar, for­mer di­rec­tor of the Re­gional Med­i­cal Re­search Cen­tre (rmrc), Bhubaneswar. “But the dis­ease is fast gain­ing a foothold in the state,” he adds.

aes was first re­ported from Rourkela in Sun­dar­garh district in 1989. Be­tween 1992 and 1995, re­searchers have doc­u­mented spo­radic cases of JE among hos­pi­talised chil­dren in Keon­jhar, Mayurb­hanj, Ja­jpur and Malka­n­giri. There was no record of aes in the state in be­tween these years, says Kar. But since 2012, Malka­n­giri has been con­sis­tently re­port­ing aes out­breaks. Ac­cord­ing to the state’s De­part­ment of Health and Fam­ily Wel­fare, 38 chil­dren died of the dis­ease in 2012, five in 2013 and 11 in 2014. Al­though there were no re­ports of deaths in 2015, the sit­u­a­tion is alarm­ing this year. “We are tak­ing all steps to con­tain the deaths, but pa­tients are dying within hours of reach­ing hos­pi­tal,” says Kailash Chan­dra Dash, di­rec­tor of Health Ser­vices.

On Septem­ber 9, Vikram and Bapi Po­di­ami of Koimetla vil­lage in Kal­imela block were ad­mit­ted to the Malka­n­giri District Head­quar­ters Hos­pi­tal. The

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