September 17, 2008

Encephalitis Vaccine Sent To India Found Unfit

India sent thousands of faulty vaccines to impoverished Uttar Pradesh  halting a planned immunization drive against an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis, raising chances that hundreds more children could die of the disease this year, health care officials said on Wednesday.

The mosquito-borne disease, which causes high fevers and vomiting has killed more than 200 children since June.

The disease can be prevented by a vaccine, however supplies of the vaccine sent by the Indian government to Uttar Pradesh were found "unfit for human use," according to state health Minister Anant Kumar Mishra.

"Over 1,000 people have been affected with encephalitis, and we are not sure when the fresh stock of vaccines will arrive," Mishra said. "In the absence of vaccine we cannot start the vaccination drive."

In 2005, more than 1,500 children were killed by the disease, but the numbers dropped sharply after the government started an annual vaccination drive in 2006.

Last year, about 400 children were killed by Japanese encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh. In response, officials launched an immunization drive in hopes of subduing the deadly disease.

Uttar Pradesh's director general of health, Ishwar Sharan Srivastava, said the state had asked for the vaccines earlier - in time for the monsoon season's start in June - but only received them last week. He said they needed up to 1 million vaccines.

"It is hard to tell as how these vaccines got spoiled. The exact reason could be ascertained only after tests," said Dr. Jagdish Chandra, a Health Ministry expert sent to investigate.

Encephalitis usually spreads in eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh during and after the June-to-September monsoon season, when pools of stagnant water provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes transmit the virus from pigs and birds to humans. Since most infected people never develop symptoms, many adults are immune from earlier exposure - leaving young children most vulnerable.