The Killer Encephalitis: The Virus, Disease, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Precautions

India, especially the northern part of the country, has been struck by an all too familiar tragedy. The killer virus, the deadly disease, Encephalitis (Acute Encephalitis Syndrome or AES), which was first detected almost 40 years ago in 1978, has already taken lives of more than 100 children in the last two weeks and the death toll, unfortunately, is expected to rise.

The pressing public health emergency, the outbreak is not sudden and entirely unknown to India.

  • 125 children died in one Gorakhpur, UP hospital alone in 2016.
  • 351 people died of Encephalitis in UP in 2013.
  • 54 deaths and 147 cases were reported in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar in 2011. The number rose to 178 deaths and 469 cases in 2012.
  • 44,000 cases, 6000+ deaths from Encephalitis have been reported between 2008 and 2014, mostly in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar. (Source: The Indian Journal of Medical Research)
  • Most casualties are between the age group of 1-10.

India, home to the second largest population in the world, is witnessing economic and epidemiological transitions. In spite of all its medical advancements, it seems the country is still struggling to address such life-threatening diseases.

What is Encephalitis? Why is it regarded as one of the most severe public health challenges India has ever faced?

Let’s briefly try to know everything that you must know about this disease and understand the necessary precautions you should take to safeguard yourself, your loved ones.

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain tissue. Once the virus enters inside the blood, it starts migrating to the brain tissues and multiplies itself into numbers. As soon as the signal reaches to our immune system, it generates a response to it in the form of inflamed brain, or we can say swelled up brain. When this self- generated response and the infection combines, this leads to viral Encephalitis, and it majorly affects the spinal cord and our central nervous system causing damage to the brain cells through virus-infected blood vessels.” – As observed by a Neurology Consultant at an established New Delhi Super-speciality Hospital.

Encephalitis: Explained

  • It’s a disease also known as “Acute Encephalitis Syndrome” (AES), “Chamki” fever or “Chamki bukhar.”
  • It’s characterized by intense fever and altered consciousness.
  • Defined as “acute-onset of fever,” change in mental status (mental confusion, disorientation, delirium, or coma) and/or onset of seizures in a person of any age.
  • Generally affects children, mostly under the age of 15, and young adults.
  • Children, due to lack of nourishment, suffer the most.
  • Occurs in seasonal outbreaks every year.
  • It has a high case-fatality rate (CFR) and can potentially take a heavy toll of life.

Encephalitis: Causes

  • Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV), a mosquito-borne flavivirus that belongs to the same genus as dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile viruses, is the primary cause.
  • Other causes: Chandipura virus, Herpes simplex virus, West Nile virus, Influenza A virus, mumps, measles, dengue, Parvovirus B4, enteroviruses, Epstein-Barr virus, scrub typhus and, S pneumoniae.
  • Other possible sources: Bacteria, fungus, chemicals, toxins, parasites, spirochetes, and noninfectious agents.
  • Spreads through contaminated surfaces.

Encephalitis: Symptoms

  • High fever.
  • Headache, Body ache, Stiff neck, and back.
  • Dizziness, Unconsciousness, Confusion, Feeling anxious.
  • Fatigue, Nausea, Vomiting.
  • Sensitivity to light, Vision impairment, Hearing loss.
  • Seizures, twitching, paralysis, and coma in critical cases.

Encephalitis: Treatment

  • The first treatment plan – hydration and increasing the glucose levels in the body.
  • Patients suffering from Encephalitis must be taken to the intensive care units.
  • In Encephalitis, antibiotics don’t work, and antiviral medication should be used.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs like Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen Sodium, can be used.
  • Complete bed rest is necessary, and plenty of fluids should be consumed.
  • A large number of Encephalitis cases are successfully addressed within a few days; however, it could take a few weeks in case of highly critical cases.

Encephalitis: Precautions & Preventive Measures

  • Prevent mosquito bites.
  • Take the necessary steps to control mosquitoes, indoors, and outdoors.
  • One must take preventive vaccination and use repellents.
  • Should wear long-sleeved clothes.
  • Wash your hands before and after meals.

Japanese Encephalitis Virus is the prominent cause of Encephalitis not only in India but in almost all other Asian countries.

Children in the age group of six months- 15 years are some of the worst affected ones. One-fifth of those who survive are left with no choice but to spend their remaining lifetimes with neurological weaknesses.

A long-lasting cure or controlling it will require a substantial improvement in sanitation and drinking water supply in remote or rural parts of the country. The government has been trying to check the regular outbreak of Encephalitis in India; however, it has proved to be a tougher challenge than expected. Some necessary precautions and proactive measures taken by citizens can help reduce these crisis- like situations to some extent.

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