India battles encephalitis as toll mounts to 570

Health authorities in India are fighting another outbreak of Japanese encephalitis (commonly known as "brain fever") and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (after almost 570 people died after contracting the deadly decease, mostly in the eastern parts of the country.

At least 252 lives have been claimed by Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Assam this year, while West Bengal has reported 11 deaths so far from both strains.

Regional health authorities on Friday warned the death toll could rise with more people still at risk.

Experts from Pune's National Institute of Virology who toured parts of north Bengal have told district health authorities that they suspect enterovirus outbreak to be the reason for the high death count (See: Bengal CM Mamata sacks 3 officials as encephalitis toll hits 108)

The symptoms include high fever, headache, vomiting, confusion and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma. The disease can result in brain damage.

Children and elderly people are especially at risk of developing a severe form of encephalitis. It is fatal in up to 60 per cent of cases.

Most often, the inflammation is caused by a virus, but in rarer instances it can be caused by bacteria. Several kinds of viruses can lead to encephalitis, including rabies, flu, measles, herpes and tick-borne encephalitis, they say.

The current outbreak in India has spread through most of the eastern and north-eastern states from West Bengal to Arunachal Pradesh. In West Bengal and Assam, the strand is thought to be Japanese encephalitis, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Outbreaks of encephalitis are common in India, especially during the monsoon season. The virus shows up in poor, flood-hit areas, where monsoons have left pools of stagnant water, allowing mosquitoes to breed and infect villagers.

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, caused by any one of a number of viruses. Symptoms include high fever, vomiting and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma. Infants and elderly people are particularly vulnerable.

Most often, the decease is caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, from mosquito or other insect bites, or through breathing in respiratory droplets from an infected person.