Fri, Sep 09, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Encephalitis death toll rises as India struggles to cope


The death toll from an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in northern India reached nearly 600, officials said yesterday, as another 53 people died overnight. Authorities struggled to find money for pesticides that could stop the spread of the mosquito-borne disease.

Hospitals in India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh, are struggling to cope with the influx of patients suffering from the disease.

Another 123 people were hospitalized overnight, bringing the total number of reported infections to 2,400, said Vijay Shankar Nigam of the state's health department.

But he said the number of people infected since the outbreak began early last month is likely to be higher. "We are not keeping track of all the patients coming into private hospitals," he said.

With 53 deaths overnight, Nigam said, the overall death toll reached 594.

No new deaths have been reported in neighboring Nepal, where the disease has killed 172 people since April. Some Nepali victims are being treated in India, Indian officials say.

Japanese encephalitis causes high fever and vomiting, and can sometimes lead to coma and death. It is spread by mosquitoes that breed in ponds and puddles left by the region's annual monsoon rains.

Children are most susceptible to the disease, and many of the dead in this outbreak have been under the age of 15.

The disease can be prevented by vaccinations, but state health authorities say they don't have enough money for an immunization program.

A lack of money is also hampering efforts to stop the disease from spreading.

"We do not have money to purchase diesel and pay workers. The situation may improve in three to four days as we have asked for the state government's help," said the state's top health official. Diesel is mixed with insecticides that are sprayed to kill the insects.

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