Tue, Jul 31, 2012 - Page 3 News List

Medics warn of Japanese encephalitis dangers amid summertime illness peak

AIRBORNE THREAT:The disease, which can leave patients with restricted movement, is often misdiagnosed as a common cold and has afflicted 20 people this season

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer, with CNA

More than 20 cases of Japanese encephalitis have been confirmed since the beginning of summer and doctors warn that delayed treatment can lead to complications and after-effects, or may even be fatal.

Japanese encephalitis is a mosquito-borne virus that can result in severe symptoms when transmitted to humans, including cachexia (muscular atrophy), neck rigidity, hemiaresis (weakness on one side of the body) and even impaired mental function.

Chen Chun-chih (陳俊志), a doctor at Kuang Tien General Hospital in Dajia District (大甲), Greater Taichung, said the hospital had already treated two patients with the disease.

One of the patients, a 40-year-old female accountant, had checked in to the hospital suffering from a continuous fever.

While she was lucid, Chen said he found the woman was unable to perform even the simplest mathematical equations, adding that after carrying out a spinal tap, the hospital diagnosed that she had been infected with the disease.

After putting the woman on supportive therapy — as there is no known treatment yet — Chen said that the woman would have to undergo rehabilitation to increase her chances of recovery.

In the other case, a 30-year-old woman became infected after a mosquito bit her while on a date with her boyfriend. Although she developed a fever, the woman thought it was just a cold.

However, she checked into hospital when she was suddenly unable to talk.

The hospital diagnosed her as having been infected with the illness along with the further complication, dysarthria — a disorder stemming from possible neurological damage to the motor component of the motor-speech system.

At present, treatment is limited mostly to supportive therapy — attempts to control or reduce the fever, lowering intra-cranial pressure — to gradually ameliorate the patient’s situation.

Mosquito-borne disease

‧ More than 20 cases of the illness reported so far; can be fatal if untreated.

‧ Symptoms include fever, muscular atrophy, neck rigidity, impaired mental function.

‧ Advice includes wearing long-sleeved clothes and the use of insect repellent.

However, Chen also urged patients to visit their doctor immediately given the disease has a fatality rate of between 5 percent and 25 percent, with a higher percentage of mortality among young children.

Delays in treatment could potentially cause different levels of neurological injury and other after-effects as the virus has more time to remain in the body, Chen said.

Chen added that due to the different locations and level of injuries sustained by each patient’s brain, the process of rehabilitation could be anywhere from a few months to several years.

Prevention is the safest way to avoid contracting the disease, Chen said, adding that if people were not vaccinated against the virus it was a suggested they do so.

When outdoors during summer months, people should wear either long-sleeved pants or clothing, Chen said, adding that spraying mosquito repellent on exposed areas of the body to keep mosquitoes away was also a good method of prevention.

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