September 25, 2005

More than 900 dead in India encephalitis outbreak

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - The death toll in India's worst
encephalitis outbreak in nearly 30 years has reached 900 but
the number of new infections has fallen in the past week,
officials said on Sunday.

More than 4,200 people have fallen ill with the virus in
the densely-populated northern state of Uttar Pradesh since
late July and close to 90 percent of fatalities have been
children between 3-to-15 years.

"With 12 deaths over the past 24 hours, the overall toll
has reached 914," a spokesman for the Uttar Pradesh government

Encephalitis is caused by a virus found in pigs and wild
birds and transferred to humans by a mosquito bite. The disease
affects the brain and causes headaches, convulsions, high fever
and respiratory distress. Many survivors are left mentally or
physically handicapped.

Authorities in Uttar Pradesh said the number of patients
coming to hospitals in the past week had fallen, indicating the
outbreak was subsiding. But scores of children remain in
hospitals, many of them in a semi-comatose state or in a coma.

"This week, there has been a definite fall in the number of
new admissions ... but we were still treating as many as 189
children with only about 130 beds," Dr. K.P. Kushwaha, head of
the pediatric unit at the state-run hospital in Gorakhpur town
in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which is the epicenter of the

Voluntary groups have slammed Uttar Pradesh and the federal
government for not vaccinating enough children against
encephalitis despite smaller outbreaks in the past 27 years and
of being slow to respond to this year's deadly outbreak, fueled
by early monsoon rains.