Though the number of brain fever cases in Tamil Nadu had come down drastically since the launch of the State government’s vaccination campaign against Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in 2007, awareness among the public was significantly low, said S. Elango, former Director of Public Health, here on Thursday.

“Even today, many refuse to see a doctor to get rid of fever and rather buy medicines over the counter, which might lead to life-threatening situations,” he added.

Japanese Encephalitis (JE) was a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes and caused inflammation of membranes around the brain. “It is a serious disease which mostly occurs in children aged up to 15 years. Pigs and wading birds are amplifying hosts of the causative JE virus. Research is being carried out on farm animals such as goats and cows to ascertain the possibility of transmission of the virus through them,” Mr. Elango said. “As there is no specific drug to treat patients affected by brain fever, the only option is to curb mosquito menace by introducing vector control programmes and administering vaccination,” he added.

“The virus spreads by Culex vishnui, a species of mosquito that breeds in paddy fields. The best way to eliminate them is by draining water in the field once a week. It can help check the vector-borne disease to some extent,” Mr. Elango said.

According to health experts, the mortality rate of brain fever was nearly 50 per cent of the total cases reported during 1990’s, especially in Villupuram, Cuddalore, Tiruchi, Vellore, Madurai, Virudhunagar and Tirunelveli districts. After the vaccination drive in 2007, the cases came down to five in 100 people.

On the need for a National Eradication Programme for JE, Mr. Elango said though funds for the research programme in this area were being allotted by the Centre, a programme on the lines of National Malaria Eradication Programme had not been implemented so far.

P.L. Joshi, former Director of National Vector-borne Diseases Control Programme (NVBDCP), said, “Brain fever is not an emerging disease. Still, it posed several challenges with regard to controlling it.” The biggest challenge facing scientists was lack of manpower, including technicians and entomologists, and laboratories and clinical management, he said.

B.K. Tyagi, Director-in-charge, Centre for Research in Medical Entomology, spoke.

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