Muzaffarpur: Encephalitis

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Prevalence, year-wise

2020: March to May

Atul Thakur & Rema Nagarajan, For Muzaffarpur, child-killer disease a bigger scare even in Covid times, May 29, 2020: The Times of India

Muzaffarpur: Acute Encephalitis Syndrome cases vis-à-vis Covid-19 cases, March to May, 2020
From: Atul Thakur & Rema Nagarajan, For Muzaffarpur, child-killer disease a bigger scare even in Covid times, May 29, 2020: The Times of India

Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, which hit national headlines last year for the death of over 150 children from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), is now bracing to face the double onslaught of AES and Covid-19. From zero cases of Covid till May 8, the district has seen a steady rise in cases with the return of migrants. Even before that, there were cases of AES and five children have died so far.

All cases of Covid and AES are being treated in the government-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH). With all Covid cases detected so far being totally asymptomatic, SKMCH doctors are more worried about AES as there has been a steady stream of cases since the first death of a three-year old on March 27. So far, 34 cases have been brought to the hospital.

The district now has 46 Covid cases, but just five are over 40 years. “They have no symptoms at all and don’t need any treatment, not even a paracetamol. So they have merely been kept under observation in the hospital,” said a senior doctor in SKMCH.

The real struggle seems to be the management of incoming migrants put under quarantine in villages. Village schools and polytechnic colleges have been turned into quarantine centres. A gram panchayat’s mukhiya in Mushari block said that rapidly changing orders by the state government had created chaos.

After first saying that returning migrants were to be quarantined, the government changed its order to say that only those coming from red zones need to be quarantined. “Suddenly, of the 80 people quarantined in the village school, 64 had to be released though they had not completed 14 days of quarantine. Many of those quarantined had told authorities they had come from Delhi, a red zone. But when the government said only those from red zone needed quarantining, they insisted that they had come from Haryana and fought to be released. Finally, we let them go,” said the mukhiya. Muzaffarpur is Bihar’s third most populated district after Patna and East Champaran though migrants, and thus Covid numbers, have been fewer than in other districts.

For now, however, AES is the bigger worry. Last year, AES deaths had risen exponentially by May-end and peaked in the first half of June. Also, while the mortality rate of Covid-19 in India is barely 3%, even in the best centres the mortality rate for AES ranges from 6%-19%. In SKMCH, it was 25% last year, according to a central government report. Currently, six children are admitted in SKMCH. The hospital has a new paediatric block and a spanking new PICU after the AES outbreak last year. “Within our limited resources, we are doing awareness campaigns and after last year many resuscitation kits have been distributed to government hospitals in adjoining districts. We hope that the situation will not get worse this year,” said a senior doctor in SKMCH.

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