AES toll mounts as doctors search for vector

AES toll mounts as doctors search for vector

With six more children succumbing to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) over the past 24 hours, the toll from the disease in Muzaffarpur has gone up to 156 this year.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, who visited Muzaffarpur to take stock of the situation, suggested remedial measures, but added that one still cannot confirm that all the deaths had been due to AES.

Earlier, some experts had suspected that the encephalitis “breaks out during the fruition season of litchi, and the virus thrives in litchi plants.”

But Muzaffarpur District Magistrate (DM) Kanwal Tanuj denied any link between litchi and AES. Scientists, doctors and experts too continue to struggle to find the reason behind its spread and the high death toll.

AES, which continues to be a long-standing mysterious disease, has affected mainly north Bihar districts, claiming the lives of nearly 1,000 children since 2008. Some deaths have been reported from Gaya and Bhagalpur too.

Since the first case this year was reported on April 11, 242 children have been admitted to Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) at Muzaffarpur. “Of them, 92 have been discharged, while 83 are undergoing treatment. The rest 67 have died,” said SKMCH superintendent Dr G K Thakur.

“Since the cause is still unknown, we are treating the children as per their symptoms,” he hastened to add.

Tanuj, however, maintained that scientists of National Centre for Disease Control have unanimously ruled out that AES is caused by a litchi virus. “Other experts doing research on AES have also not linked it to litchi, although it’s a coincidence that AES and litchi-harvesting occur almost simultaneously,” he said.

The DM cited the case of a seven-month-old who died due to AES. “A seven-month-old cannot eat litchi,” he pointed out. Litchi traders and exporters too discounted any link of the fruit to AES.

“The first death due to AES was in April, while plucking of litchi starts in the last week of May,” said litchi trader R K Kedia.

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