The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mystery disease sends medics scrambling

Lucknow, Nov. 30: A team of experts from the state health directorate today rushed to Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar and Meerut districts of western Uttar Pradesh following reports that more than 100 children have died there from a mysterious disease.

State authorities woke up today after a team from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in Delhi went to Saharanpur and collected blood samples to establish the nature of the disease, suspected to be a virulent form of Japanese encephalitis.

The health directorate here confirmed that the disease had killed at least 49 children in the rural areas of Saharanpur in the last one-and-a-half months. “It seems to be spreading to neighbouring Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Baghpat districts and five deaths were reported from Khekra in Baghpat during the last 24 hours,” said an official.

In Saharanpur itself, more than a hundred children are undergoing treatment. “They are showing symptoms of Japanese encephalitis or brain fever and the condition of more than 50 per cent of them is serious,” officials admitted.

The authorities had initially dismissed reports of the epidemic as stray cases of malaria. However, as more and more cases with high fever started coming to Saharanpur district hospital and patients went into coma, they woke up and sought help from the NICD.

Without committing himself on the epidemic in western Uttar Pradesh, A.P. Varshenya of the Lucknow Medical College said Japanese encephalitis was caused by a viral infection of the brain transmitted by mosquitoes.

“It has a higher mortality rate which kills patients within 36 to 48 hours. Children are the usual victims because their immunity is low,” he added.

Speaking on phone on condition of anonymity, a doctor in Saharanpur hospital told The Telegraph he feared that the actual toll might be higher.

Deputy director (medicine and health) R.K. Goyal said on phone that in addition to the five deaths, one child had died in Parikshatgarh in Meerut and another in Muzaffarnagar district.

As the disease appeared to be spreading to new rural areas, government doctors were busy blaming each other.

Saharanpur district hospital medical superintendent V.P. Bhatnagar blamed senior paediatrician Dr Gopal Swaroop and chief medical officer Ghanshyam Singh for the deaths.

Taking a serious view of the situation in Lucknow, chief minister Mayavati has asked the principal secretary (health) to rush to Saharanpur to ensure that all patients receive prompt treatment and the epidemic is contained.

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