JUN 19, 2019 11:10 AM PDT

Rising Cases of Encephalitis and Death in India

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Children in eastern India have been dying of encephalitis. Around 400 kids have complained of dizziness, confusion, and fever since the start of the year. So far, 109 children have been killed in Muzaffarpur in Bihar state because of an infection or inflammation in their brains, and at least 200 are still in treatment.

This situation is not entirely unusual. Acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) was first reported in India in 1955, and the first outbreak was recorded in 1973. Cases were sporadic for many years until they began to increase, especially in poorer parts of India. The rise of AES was more dramatic after 2000. There were 590 deaths in India due to AES in 2013, and the death toll than started to decline. Now the disease seems to be on the rise again.

"This year, the number [of cases] has gone up a bit," Sanjay Kumar, a senior state health official told CNN. "The heat wave has been too intense, and it has gone on for too long." The role of heat in the spread of the disease remains unclear, however.

Officials have had a hard time identifying the source of the syndrome. In recent years, Indian cases of AES were caused by the Japanese encephalitis virus (as the video above illustrates), but virologists noted the possibility that a toxin was to blame.

Researchers hypothesized that something in the lychee fruit, which is widely grown in the same area as the current outbreak, is a factor. Previous work has identified the compound methylene cyclopropyl glycine, found in unripe lychee fruit, as a chemical that can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and death, but it's not yet known how it has this effect, and it has not yet been confirmed that this chemical is to blame for the AES cases in Indian kids.

Lychee / Credit: Freestockphotos

"If it is [a] virus or a toxin in something they are eating, we don't really know," noted Dr. Neelu Desai, a pediatric neurologist in Mumbai.

The immune systems of children are not fully developed, which is probably also leaving them especially vulnerable to whatever is causing AES.

All of the affected children have suffered from hypoglycemia, but they're also malnourished. "The liver stores glycogen. When the sugar level goes down, the liver releases extra sugar to balance it out, but if there is no extra sugar and there are only toxins, then they get released," said Kumar.

Outbreaks of AES and other illnesses in India often stretched through the summer monsoon season; there may be many more deaths before the outbreak ends.

 

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAR 16, 2021
Immunology
What Happens When Your Immune System Forgets
MAR 16, 2021
What Happens When Your Immune System Forgets
One of the most remarkable features of the immune system is its ability to “remember” past encounters with p ...
MAR 23, 2021
Coronavirus
A Mother-to-Fetus COVID-19 Transmission Has Devastating Consequences
MAR 23, 2021
A Mother-to-Fetus COVID-19 Transmission Has Devastating Consequences
A pregnant woman infected with the pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2 passed the virus on to her unborn child through the placent ...
MAR 25, 2021
Microbiology
Good Microbes Can Help Plants Withstand Heat
MAR 25, 2021
Good Microbes Can Help Plants Withstand Heat
Bacteria live everywhere, and we're starting to understand how they affect the biology of animals and plants. This comes ...
APR 19, 2021
Microbiology
Small Differences Enable Some Microbes To Persist in the Gut
APR 19, 2021
Small Differences Enable Some Microbes To Persist in the Gut
The world is full of microbes that have colonized nearly every environment including the human body. The vast majority o ...
MAY 03, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Are Retrons the Next CRISPR?
MAY 03, 2021
Are Retrons the Next CRISPR?
After being identified in the 1980s, it was thought that retrons were just an odd feature of some bacterial cells. But e ...
MAY 14, 2021
Microbiology
An Imaging Tool for Seeing Bacterial Infections in the Body
MAY 14, 2021
An Imaging Tool for Seeing Bacterial Infections in the Body
Researchers have created an imaging agent that will allow scientists and clinicians to visualize a bacterial infection c ...
Loading Comments...