Authorities in the West Bengal state of India are becoming increasingly alarmed by an epidemic of encephalitis there.
Authorities in the West Bengal state of India are becoming increasingly alarmed by an epidemic of encephalitis there. The disease has already claimed at least 185 lives, and the death toll mounts daily. But combating the highly-infectious illness is proving very difficult.
SYNOPSIS: The worst-hit area is the Burdwan district where at least 248 villages are reported to be infected with the disease. The district's medical college hospital is already overcrowded and for these patients there is little hope. Half are likely to die. The other half will probably be paralysed and incapable of speech for the rest of their lives.
There is no specific cure for encephalitis. The best the authorities can do is try to prevent the disease which is usually spread through insect bites. It is particularly prevalent in villages where the people live close to animals, for the disease often originates in cattle and pigs and is transmitted by mosquitoes. In one form it is more commonly known as "sleeping sickness". Its symptoms are severe headaches, convulsions, fever and delirium and it hits adults and children alike -- but for child victims the risk of extreme brain damage is particularly acute.
An added problem for the authorities is the reluctance of many villagers to accept modern treatment and preventions for superstition and a belief in the occult predominates. But gradually medical teams are persuading people to take the vaccines that could bring the epidemic to and end.