After Bihar, JE spreads across Assam, docs’ leave axed

Health Minister of Himanta Biswa Sarma (DH Photo)

After the outbreak in Bihar, Japanese Encephalitis (JE) has spread across Assam, with 190 cases, including 49 deaths, reported so far this year from 32 of the state’s 33 districts.

With this, the death toll due to JE in the state till 2018 has reached 760. (see graphics)



This prompted the state government on Saturday to cancel leave of all doctors and paramedics till September 30 to contain the spread of the disease and avoid a Bihar-like situation.

“We are witnessing transmission for JE with the cultivation season at its peak with onset of Monsoon. We witness JE almost every year between June to August and this year, we have reported cases from June 28 onwards. JE cases have been reported from 1,094 villages across Assam this year so far,” health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters here on Saturday.

The Japanese Encephalitis is caused by a virus transmitted through culex mosquito. “The primary reservoir of this virus is migratory birds like Heron, Cattle Egrets and pigs which acts as amplifying hosts. Those coming in contact with these pigs or birds when affected may suffer from JE. From affected human cases JE does not spread to other human beings by the bite of culex mosquito,” a statement issued by the state health department said.

High fever with headache, change in mental status, like confusion, disorientation with or without seizure are some of the major symptoms of JE.

“As the health minister since 2006, I have seen JE and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) cases mainly in five upper Assam districts - Sivasagar, Tinsukia, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Golaghat and two central Assam districts. But this year we have come across many cases from lower Assam and North Assam districts too. We are trying to ascertain the causes in details,” Sarma said, adding that the situation in the state was under close watch.

Assam has reported JE cases almost every year, with doctors calling it an endemic problem. “High temperature, humidity, vegetation, large paddy cultivation and pig rearing practice are some of the major geographical reasons that cause JE. The JE has a high mortality rate and the number of deaths in Assam has been a serious concern for long. We have to make sure that we don’t give mosquito a good breeding space," Chiranjeeb Kakoty, a physician based in Guwahati said.

"At the same time, we must work more on vaccination part by going for universal vaccination of the adults. The strategy should be preventive more than the treatment because even if we treat a JE patient, he or she may be left with some long-term impact including disability,” he added.

Sarma said the state government would provide free treatment in government hospitals to JE patients and would bear treatment cost up to Rs. one lakh for those undergoing treatment in private hospitals.

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