Japanese encephalitis (JE) has claimed the lives of eight more children in the last five days in Bihar's Gaya district, taking the death toll in the epidemic to 62, a health official said Thursday.
The two children died in the last 24 hours and six in the last five days at Anugrah Narayan Medical College and Hospital (ANMCH), about 100 km from here, hospital superintendent Sitaram Prasad said.
The first encephalitis-related death in the district this year was reported Aug 23.
Encephalitis is an acute inflammation of the brain resulting either from a viral infection or when the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks brain tissue. The children reported high fever, followed by bouts of unconsciousness and convulsions, the health official said.
State Health Secretary Sanjay Kumar, who visited Gaya early this week, said the children died due to Japanese encephalitis.
"I have directed health officials to spray malathion in the affected areas and ensure doses of JE vaccine to children in affected villages by the end of October," Kumar told IANS.
According to ANMCH paediatrics head A.K. Ravi, most of the children who have died were from rural areas of Gaya and neighbouring districts. He said more than 280 children with suspected encephalitis have been admitted to date.
"Over three dozen children are still battling for life," he said.
Suspected encephalitis in Gaya killed 46 children in 2009, 49 in 2008 and 29 in 2007, a district administration official said.
Two months ago, 55 children died in Muzaffarpur district but the state government is yet to confirm these as encephalitis deaths.
Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad last month informed the Rajya Sabha that clinical and epidemiological data suggested that it was an outbreak of acute encephalitis syndrome, resulting in 150 cases and 55 deaths, mostly among children.
In a written reply, the minister said these cases were reported from early June to mid-July from Muzaffarpur and its bordering areas in Bihar.