Assam battles encephalitis; 40 dead in 60 days
Gayatri Bhattacharjee, Friday August 28, 2009, Upper Assam

As the country battles swine flu, Assam has more to fight on the health front. Close to 40 people have died in Upper Assam in the last two months due to Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). But unlike swine flu there seems to be lesser panic for a disease that has a higher mortality rate than HINI virus.

Jorabai's husband, a tea garden labourer was admitted in the Sibsagar Hospital after complaining of symptoms like fever and convulsion. "He had loose motion and fever for three days. He had a convulsion and I brought him here," she said.

This is a case of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, which may or may not be fatal but another variety of encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis, has a low rate of recovery or results in neurological disorder.

Like every year, stagnant rainwater becomes the breeding ground for the culex mosquito, causing Japanese encephalitis deaths in the districts of Upper Assam, which has a high ratio of pig population, a vital carrier of the disease.

"The number of people affected with Japanese Encephalitis is 125. Out of that, 41 expired...things are under control," Sibsagar's Additional District Commissioner Yogesh Barua said.

Forty people have died since July in this district alone, but there seems to be less panic, which is probably good but even lesser concern, which may be reason for worry.

"When we hear we get worried to an extent but how will it help, isn't it?" says an old lady.

Incidentally, this was one of the first districts to vaccinate children in the age group of 1-15,
But the people affected this year are adults.

The state government has now decided to cover the entire population under its vaccination programme, an ambitious effort but probably the only means of combating this deadly disease.