The Indian Medical Association’s committee of experts probing the deaths of infants in Bihar due to encephalitis has released a preliminary report. In it, the committee has not only chronicled the recent outbreak, but has also given its inferences regarding the disease and suggestions about the same.
“As of now we cannot pinpoint the exact etiology of the syndrome. The encephalopathy (involvement of the brain) can be due to high temperature and humidity or malnutrition. It does not seem likely that this is due to an infection. Moreover, with regard to the claims that eating litchi has contributed to the deaths, we do not have enough information to conclude this,” said an IMA source of the investigations.
The report also adds that correcting the hypoglycemia in children who are affected helps in preventing lasting brain injury.
The committee investigating was comprised of Dr V G Pradeep, Convenor, Dr Bimal Karak President Elect of IMA Bihar, Dr B P Roy and Dr Deepak Varma of the Public Health Institute in Patna.
Over 400 children have been admitted in hospitals since mid May in Muzaffarpur district in Bihar with complaints of high fever and seizures. Around 140 children have died after having been diagnosed with encephalitis.
In light of the recent deaths in the region, the Supreme Court took cognisance of the issue and asked the Centre and the Bihar government on Monday to apprise it about the steps taken to prevent the recent deaths of children due to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES).
The court's response came on a PIL filed over the outbreak of AES. A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and B.R. Gavai had stated that, “This PIL raises a matter of grave concern about nutrition, sanitisation and hygiene." The court observed that the deaths due to the outbreak raise valid questions on the availability of medicines along with the public policy in place to counter the current scenario. The court has scheduled the hearing of the matter after 10 days. The petition said that the critical situation has arrived due to the lackadaisical approach of government authorities, as they had ignored children's deaths every year.
"The children are losing their lives in scores due to unavailability of medicines, proper care and lack of intensive care units in hospitals of the area," the petition said.
Seeking the apex court's intervention, the petition said that only the court could save lives of thousands of children.