India struggles with encephalitis outbreak

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Sunday, September 4, 2005

India's Uttar Pradesh province

Over 400 have died in an outbreak of encephalitis in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh and nearby regions, including neighbouring Nepal. The actual figures are estimated to be much higher, as the current toll only takes into account those that have died at public hospitals, excluding any deaths in villages and private hospitals. A further 1500 or more are estimated to currently be hospitalised with the disease. The majority of the dead and infected are reported to be under 15.

The first cases of the disease this season were reported in late July. The disease is carried by pigs, which then migrates to humans through mosquitos. The outbreak has prompted the Indian government to undertake such measures as deployment of pig catchers in seriously affected areas, distributing thousands of mosquito curtains and spraying pesticides. Several million vials of encephalitis vaccine have also been promised by the government, which will help prepare health agencies for next year. Plans for vaccines to be delivered to the historically most affected areas this year were delayed due to lack of funds and low prioritisation relative to other diseases.

This is not the first time such an event has occurred. Thousands have died of the disease over the past three decades in the region. The most common period for the disease is during the monsoon season (July-September).