Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s most populous states, records 433 deaths from encephalitis since Jan. 2011.
According to K.P. Kushwaha, the chief pediatrician at BRD Medical College and Nehru Hospital, of the 433 deaths, 336 of them were children.
The most affected area in Uttar Pradesh is Gorakhpur. Encephalitis is not new to Gorakhpur, where 6,000 children have died since the first case was discovered in 1978. Cases of encephalitis occur each monsoon season in Gorakhpur, as the high rains paired with low-lying areas create ideal conditions for flooding and mosquito breeding.
The area is usually affected by Japanese encephalitis. In 2006 and again in 2010, Gorakhpur hosted vaccination campaigns that resulted in a significant decrease in Japanese encephalitis in the area.
Recently, children have been dying of a different form of viral encephalitis, the cause of which, as of yet, is unidentified. Experts suspect a water-borne virus.
According to The Times of India, 2,482 cases of encephalitis have been recorded since January.
Encephalitis is a swelling of the brain that is most often caused by viruses, but can also be caused by bacteria, fungi or parasites. The incubation period varies depending on the exposure. A tick-borne encephalitis infection may have a longer incubation period than a water-borne infection, for instance. Most infections cause mild symptoms, including: headache, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. Symptoms of a severe infection include: fever, altered consciousness, confusion, seizures, hallucinations, loss of sensation or paralysis in some parts of the body, nausea and problems with speech or hearing.
There are two types of encephalitis: primary and secondary. Primary encephalitis is a direct infection of the brain. Secondary encephalitis is a flawed immune system response that takes place in the brain, though the actual infection is elsewhere in the body. Common viruses, such as those spread by mosquitoes or ticks, can cause encephalitis.
While many people recover from mild encephalitis without complications, severe infections can result in permanent mood or personality disorders, lack of muscle coordination, paralysis, hearing, vision or speech defects and intellectual disabilities.
To treat cases of encephalitis, bed rest and anti-inflammatories are recommended. If the cause was viral, there are also antiviral medications that are prescribed.
As there are multiple causes of encephalitis, prevention practices are widespread. The Mayo Clinic recommends practicing good hygiene, getting vaccinations, consuming safe food and water and protecting against vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks.