Incurable Japanese Encephalitis Threatens India

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A four-year-old girl in Manipur in July 2016 suffered convulsions, high fever, and bouts of unconsciousness succumbing to Japanese encephalitis (JE), leading to the first death in the state from the viral brain infection that is transmitted by the Culex mosquito since 2010.

Japanese Encephalitis is the main cause of brain inflammation (viral encephalitis) in Asia. Fatality rates for severe infections according to the WHO are between 20-30%. Even when treated, it leaves serious neurological effects particularly in children and about 30-50% of survivors struggle to walk or contract other cognitive disabilities.

The virus appeared previously in Odisha in October 2012 after two decades, when 272 cases were reported and 24 deaths were registered. 626 symptomatic JE cases were estimated in Kushinagar Uttar Pradesh in 2012, with 139 confirmed cases, according to the Public Health Foundation of India.

The virus has a tendency to move to areas where there is stagnant water in paddy fields and also develops new habitats. Some subgroups of the Culex mosquitos have been found along the Yamuna banks in vegetation, confirmed the National Vector Born Disease Control Program (NVBDCP).

A 2016 Journal of Paediatrics study showed that the unofficial count of JE cases could be significantly higher than the reported data.

Routine immunisation covers JE in 197 districts with two doses administered over 18 months, and has proven successful mostly in South India (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu) and some districts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.