07/22/2014, 00.00
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West Bengal: Japanese encephalitis outbreak kills 60 people

Most of the victims are children. In just two weeks, the death toll rose rapidly. Causes remain unknown. Usually, the State is not among the most affected by this disease.

Kolkata (AsiaNews/Agencies) - At least 60 people have died in the past two weeks from an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis that has hit the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. The victims are mostly children. Most patients come from seven of the State's northern districts.

West Bengal health official Biswaranjan Satpathy said the sudden spike in cases and deaths from encephalitis occurred between 7 and 20 July, reaching "alarming proportions". However, he could not identify a specific reason for the rise.

What is frightening is the fact that West Bengal is usually not one of the most affected states. Across India, Japanese encephalitis kills more than 100 children each year. Last year, the eastern state recorded only five deaths.

The disease usually occurs during the monsoon season, which is currently underway. Caused by a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes, its symptoms include vomiting and headaches, leading to coma, brain dysfunction, epilepsy and inflammation of the heart and liver.

Several thousand people - particularly children - have died of encephalitis in northern India (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) after the first case was recorded in 1975.

These states are at high risk because of widespread malnutrition among children, who are the most vulnerable to the virus.


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