At least 28 children have died in the last one month in Muzaffarpur district of north Bihar, allegedly due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), which is locally known as Chamki bukhar (brain fever).
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has expressed concern over the rising deaths of children in Muzaffarpur. He said, “A team of doctors and medical experts have been sent to Muzaffarpur to monitor the situation and also speed up the awareness drive about complexities and preventive measures about AES”.
“Till last night, 28 children have lost their lives…we’ve started two separate Intensive Care Units (ICU) along with other makeshift wards in the government hospital”, Muzaffarpur civil surgeon Dr. Shailendera Prasad Singh told The Hindu over phone.
Earlier on Monday, Principal Secretary of the Health Department Sanajy Kumar said the deaths were caused by Hypoglycemia (deficiency of glucose or sugar in the blood stream), and not by the fever. He, however, added that “48 suspected AES cases have been recorded so far in the district”.
On Tuesday, Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwani Kumar Choubey said in Patna that “since state government officials were engaged in election-related works in the recent past months they could not make the awareness drive as it should have been…we’re careful and taking all measures to tackle the situation of death of children in Muzaffarpur”.
Unofficial records say a different story
Meanwhile, unofficial records said that 130 cases of suspected AES had come in at the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) and private Kejriwal hospital in Muzaffarpur in the last nine days. “Totally, 81 children with suspected AES are admitted in these two hospitals and over three dozen have already died…these days the ICUs, pediatrics ICU and other makeshift separate wards of SKMCH and Kejriwal hospital are crammed with children having symptoms of suspected AES...if not contained soon, the death toll may go up to 50 in thbe coming days”, said a doctor of the SKMCH on the condition of anonymity.
Every year during summer time, especially in the season of luscious fruit litchi, AES outbreak gets reported and takes the lives of children in the district, which is India’s largest litchi cultivation region. In 2014, when altogether 90 children died in the district due to suspected AES, a research carried by the Lancet Global Health established the connection between litchi consumption and encephalitis deaths.
Mr. Nitish Kumar had said, “It generally hits those children who go to sleep empty stomach at night and eat litchis fallen on the ground. Earlier, three different teams of doctors had reached three different conclusions about the reason of children’s deaths in summer season in Muzaffarpur… last year, very few deaths were reported because an extensive awareness drive was launched.”
Former Union Health Minister Dr. Harshvardhan had visited the SKMCH and made several announcements, including the setting up of a virology lab at the hospital to study the nature of diseases, but nothing happened thereafter.
According to doctors, high temperatures during summer, along with humidity more than the normal, is considered to be an ideal situation for the outbreak of AES, which has symptoms of high fever, vomiting, nausea and unconsciousness. Since 2010, 398 children have died in Muzaffarpur due to suspected AES.