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Disease leaves experts clueless

The suspected encephalitis menace that has claimed around 97 lives, mostly in north Bihar districts like Muzaffarpur, has left experts perplexed.

A four-member team from National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, led by B.B. Tandle, has failed to identify the cause for the disease’s spread in Muzaffarpur and adjacent districts on the basis of blood samples and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of the ailing children.

Tandle visited Muzaffarpur for the second time on Wednesday with NIV experts. He examined children in the paediatric intensive care units of Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH). “So far no viruses have been found in the blood and CSF samples of affected children during intensive laboratory examination,” Tandle said. He said they would have to collect brain tissues of the dead children to zero in on the cause of the disease. But SKMCH deputy superintendent Sunil Shahi said: “Brain tissues can be extracted from dead patients only after the state government declares the disease an epidemic. There are certain legal formalities that cannot be fulfilled without the approval of the government.”

On Tuesday, Union minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution Ram Vilas Paswan, had taken a dig at the state government for not declaring the disease an epidemic so far. “How many deaths does the government need to declare encephalitis an epidemic?” he had asked. “It is the state government’s failure in tackling the threat in time. Beds in the paediatric intensive care unit should have been created before the disease struck.”

Tandle added that encephalitis experts from abroad are still studying the disease. “Experts from Centre for Disease Control, Atlanta, James Xavier and John D. Thomas have collected blood samples and cerebrospinal liquid for necessary investigation in an Atlanta laboratory to find out viruses if any,” he said.

James Xavier and John D. Thomas are staying in the district to help doctors with the treatment and research. “We have not been able to find any viruses yet. It is puzzling. But tests are being conducted in India and abroad,” James said.

District magistrate Anupam Kumar said: “Eleven mobile medical units running into the affected villages have so far spotted six children showing symptoms of encephalitis and admitted them to the SKMCH. The units have, so far, examined over 800 children.”

Action against docs

District magistrate Anupam Kumar ordered departmental action against two doctors of primary health centres, five auxiliary nurses midwife (ANMs) and removal of seven accredited social health activists (ASHAs) on charges of negligence. They were absent at primary health centres during a random check on Tuesday night.


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