NEW DELHI, July 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Almost 570
people in India have died after contracting encephalitis,
commonly known as "brain fever", health authorities said on
Friday, warning the death toll may rise with more people still
Outbreaks of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome and Japanese
Encephalitis are common every year in India, especially during
the monsoon season, and claim hundreds of lives.
But this year, major outbreaks - usually most prevalent in
the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar - have spread to
regions such as West Bengal and Assam further east and north -
killing 568 people.
In West Bengal, where at least 111 people have died from
both strains, a senior health official said authorities were
taking emergency steps to contain the outbreak.
"We have sounded an alert in seven districts and cancelled
the leave of all health department officials," West Bengal's
Health Services Director B.R. Satpathy told the Thomson Reuters
The health department has set up clinics across affected
areas and is trying to prevent breeding of mosquitoes by
fogging, especially around pig farms, where there is a high risk
of contracting the virus.
Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, caused by any
one of a number of viruses, says the World Health Organisation.
Symptoms include high fever, vomiting and, in severe cases,
seizures, paralysis and coma. Infants and elderly people are
It is most often caused by eating or drinking contaminated
food or water, from mosquito or other insect bites, or through
breathing in respiratory droplets from an infected person.
Outbreaks of the virus tend to occur in poor, flood-hit
areas, where monsoons have left pools of stagnant water,
allowing mosquitoes to breed and infect villagers.
Floods also lead to the contamination of clean water sources
such as wells, leaving many people with no option but to use the
same dirty water for both drinking and sanitation.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said last month that he was
distressed at the "runaway conquest of encephalitis" and ordered
the vaccination of all children in vulnerable states and the
provision of dedicated hospital beds.
In 2012, the government launched a national programme to
prevent and control the virus, including expanded vaccinations,
strengthened surveillance and improved access to safe drinking
water and sanitation.
There were 1,273 deaths due to encephalitis in 2013 compared
to 440 deaths from malaria and 193 from dengue, according to
(Additional reporting by Sujoy Dhar in KOLKATA; Editing by Ron