London, August 25 (ANI): Health officials have said that at least 200 children have died in an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in northern India.
According to a report by BBC News, so far, 900 affected children have been admitted to hospitals in Uttar Pradesh state. Some patients have come from neighbouring Bihar state and Nepal.
Japanese encephalitis, which causes high fever, vomiting and can leave patients comatose, usually hits Uttar Pradesh state in July-August, during India's monsoon.
There is no specific cure for the mosquito-borne disease that has killed thousands in India since 1978.
Health experts complain that red tape has prevented development of an effective vaccination programme.
Doctors say children between the age of six months to 15 years are worst affected and most of the victims are poor people from rural areas.
"The attack of the encephalitis virus is extremely ferocious this year," said Dr Rashmi Kumar, an expert on Japanese encephalitis at Lucknow Medical College hospital.
"Children are developing a serious condition within a day or two of getting infected," she said.
Health officials in Lucknow, capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), say cases of acute encephalitis are being reported mostly from 14 districts of eastern UP in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The low-lying areas are prone to annual floods, and severe water-logging and a lack of sanitation provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
According to doctors, Gorakhpur town is the epicentre of the disease.
Last year, the government said it would spend 60 million rupees to upgrade facilities at Gorakhpur Medical College hospital.
But, according to doctors, the hospital does not have adequate numbers of medical staff to deal with the large numbers of patients.
Doctors say the children who survive will have to face lifelong problems as the disease has a crippling effect.
While there is no specific cure for the disease after it has been contracted, three vaccines are in use worldwide that have reportedly been successful in preventing the disease.
But India has so far failed to develop an effective vaccination programme.
After the disease killed 1,500 children in 2005, a public outcry forced the government to import vaccines from China and a mass vaccination project was started.
However, doctors say the vaccine coverage has not been satisfactory this year, with many parents of affected children saying no vaccination was done in their areas. (ANI)