- Most children who died of encephalitis had asbestos sheet homes: study
- A team of doctors also found glaring lapses in government hospitals
- Most affected children had a metabolic disorder, the study found
As Bihar awaits the detailed report on what exactly caused the outbreak of encephalitis that caused the death of over 150 children, a team of doctors who treated the children indicated that asbestos homes in which the children lived could be a factor.
A group of doctors, including those from the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, who had treated the children Sri Krishna Medical College Hospital in Muzaffarpur district visited the homes of several children who died in the past few weeks and conducted an independent study. Muzaffarpur is the epicentre of the outbreak.
"Besides issues like too much heat and malnutrition, we found that most of those who died were living in asbestos sheet home where temperature in the night too doesn't go down. Most of the parents also admitted that they did not receive either ration or ORS (oral rehydration solution) packets which are mandatory as per protocol and are supposed to be distributed by the authorities from March," said Dr Harjeet Singh Bhatti who was leading the team.
Most of the children in the affected areas, the team found, were not vaccinated for Japanese Encephalitis.
Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, that main reason for the child deaths, is an inflammation of the brain, affecting mostly undernourished children under 10.
The doctors also found out that most of the affected children had a metabolic disorder in which mitochondria, which are considered the power hub off the cells in the body, did not function properly, causing multi-organ failure and high levels of toxic ammonia, eventually leading to death.
Like a recent preliminary survey, the doctors too ruled out litchi as one of the main reasons for encephalitis deaths.
The precise causes of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome are not known, though a majority of medical professionals say it is linked to a ferocious heat-wave.
The team pointed out glaring lapses at government hospitals. At the Sri Krishna Medical College Hospital, at least 500 patients turn up every day at the outpatient department or OPD. These patients have just four doctors and three nurses.
At most of the houses that the doctors went to, the families have no access to safe drinking water and have poor hygiene. The socio-economic survey done earlier had covered 289 families in Muzaffarpur. It showed that 280 families are below poverty line where the breadwinner worked as daily wage worker.
The Bihar government is likely to give a detailed reply to these points next week in the both houses of state legislature.
The National Family Health Survey states almost half of the children under five in the Muzaffarpur are stunted, almost 60 per cent are anaemic, and more than 40 per cent underweight.