After 170 deaths from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome in just two months in Bihar, Assam is now on alert for a Japanese Encephalitis outbreak. At least 57 people have died in the last three months from Japanese Encephalitis and 234 positive cases have been reported in the state in this fresh outbreak.
Over the past three months, Assam has also seen over 50 deaths due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome or AES. While the state's health establishment is on the highest alert, the biggest worry is that this time cases have been reported from 26 out of Assam's 27 district, and many new areas have become vulnerable to the killer disease, officials said.
"The vector density in Assam is higher due to presence of lot of large water bodies. Japanese Encephalitis was most prevalent in upper Assam near the border with Myanmar. This year we see lot of cases from even lower Assam, this may be because of the reservoir birds also migrate and are seen more in lower Assam, the virus comes from them," Dr BC Bhagobati, State Surveillance Officer, Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme of Assam, told NDTV.
Leaves of all health workers have been cancelled till end September; doctors have been warned of police action if there are complaints of neglecting their duties. While Japanese Encephalitis outbreaks are almost an annual feature in Assam, the state has lost 700 lives to this vector borne disease since 2013.
2014 was worst in recent years, with 165 dead and last year the toll stood at 94.
"We have decided to intensify our blood sample collection drive. So far we have collected 12.5 lakh blood samples, we are intensifying the samples collection thus we have also declared an incentive for our grass root health workers. We have cancelled leave of all government doctors, and all health employees of all government health facilities, we are on alert. All the treatment cost whenever patient is in ICU will be done by government and if there are treated even in private hospital in ICU we will give a onetime grant of 1 lakh to them as well. We are trying to create an ecosystem to fight any outbreak, we are starting an intensive adult vaccination drive from November," Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had told NDTV last Saturday.
But what is worrying health officials is the Japanese Encephalitis virus appears to be spreading beyond the nine districts that have traditionally been vulnerable including Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and Jorhat. Cases have been reported from new areas - the hilly districts of Dima Sasao and Karbi Anglong and high prevalence in lower Assam districts of Barpeta, Baksa and Dhubri.
"This real challenge now is to reduce mosquito-human contact and mosquito-pig contact in newly-affected areas since awareness will be less in these areas," Dr Bhagobati further added.
This year, over 70 children across Assam have been infected with Japanese Encephalitis virus, while number of infected adult is more than double. Officials said it seems that the children Japanese Encephalitis vaccination programme has been able in bringing down the number of children affected this year.