Toll 47, Bihar may declare mystery disease epidemic

With the death toll in the mysterious disease rising to 47 on Sunday, the Bihar government is likely to declare it an epidemic.

Under the epidemic Act, the Health Ministry will be empowered to take samples of brain tissues of the mystery disease victims.

Six deaths have been reported during the last 48 hours, including five at K D Kejriwal Maternity Hospital. The hospital, which has admitted 82 patients since June 11, reported 24 deaths till Sunday evening including one on Sunday. Seventeen children are being treated at the hospital.

Muzaffarpur's government hospital, Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital, reported one death during the last 48 hours. It has been treating eight patients. Patna Medical College and Hospital has seven patients.

At the National Institute of Virology, Pune, and Rajendra Memorial Research Institute, Patna, 24 blood and cerebral spinal fluid samples have tested negative for Japanese encephalitis (JE). These institutes now want brain tissue samples to ascertain the disease that experts describe as a kind of viral encephalitis. Culex mosquitoes are suspected to carry virus from animals to humans.

Muzaffarpur district magistrate recommended the state government late on Saturday night to declare Gandak catchment and suburban areas of Bochaha, Minapur, Mushahari, Kanti, Ahiyapur, Sahebganj and Paru as epidemic zone. The district administration has set up a five-member doctors' committee to advise line of treatment and help prepare a contingency plan. Dr Arun Shah, one of the members of the committee, said Muzaffarpur cases needed the same treatment as Saharanpur encephalitis that led to a large number of deaths every year till 2000. "A study by the Indian Council of Medical Research concluded that a toxin from kasaundhi trees, being transmitted to humans through insects, caused the disease. The trees were cut and the disease subsided. Litchi trees and mosquitoes present in the region should be studied for this disease," suggested Shah.

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